This year has undoubtedly been a doozie. One we don’t wish to repeat any time soon. However, as the calendar dates continue to drone on, we can look into the next few months and realize that soon, we’re starting a New Year. (We can only hope 2021 can be much kinder.)
Until then, we can endure whatever the world continues to throw at us. Sit back and enjoy some of the most relatable memes that we can link back to how this year has gone.
The fire team is the most important unit of the Marine Corps’ infantry. The Corps is always looking for new ways to make its fire teams more effective on the battlefield. From equipment upgrades to weapon replacements, there’s always room for improvement. But one thing they have yet to figure out is what Marines at the lowest levels can do during their free time. Well, why not reserve some time at the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer?
At the bottom of the Marine Corps task organization is the four-person fire team and they are, by far, the most critical asset in the entire hierarchy. The more lethal each individual team, the more lethal the unit as a whole and the ISMIT gives troops the opportunity to practice their shooting skills without firing real bullets on a live range. It’s like playing Nintendo Duck Hunt with military guns and honestly, it puts a lot of current virtual reality gaming to shame with its fun factor.
But beneath that, there’s a deeper level of training value that can make a unit much more effective and especially more lethal, given the right prompt and simulation.
Here are some ways the ISMIT can improve your unit at the fire team level:
Unit cohesion will keep your troops motivated.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Takoune H. Norasingh)
Build unit cohesion
The best thing you can get out of going to the ISMIT is bringing your troops closer together. You can start with some simple, basic simulations and move on to having full blown shooting competitions where the winners are rewarded. It really gives your team a chance to put their money where their mouth is.
Meanwhile, everyone is growing closer as they talk more sh*t.
You want your team to have deadly precision.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal)
The air rifles you get to use at the ISMIT aren’t going to be adjusted for you so their shots will be all over the place. This helps you refine your ability to adjust your aim based on shot impact since you’re going to spend the first few rounds figuring out where your shots are hitting.
The more you train these positions, the better you’ll become.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jamean Berry)
Practice solid shooting positions
This is key for basic marksmanship and you can practice this without having to shoot but it’s extremely helpful for a shooter to learn how their position affects their accuracy and the ISMIT does just that.
Instead of the laughing dog, you get actual people who will make fun of you after the game is over.
There are simulations that take you into a city or a desert where you get to shoot at enemies. Whether it’s zombies or insurgents, you get a feel for having a target that’s maneuvering and you can practice using a bullet as a stop sign.
You want to be able to retain as much ammo as possible without sacrificing your aggression.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Taylor W. Cooper)
Practice ammo conservation
One competition you can have with your fire teams is seeing who can get the highest number of hits with the lowest amount of shots. This really puts you to the test and makes you focus on taking your time with each shot to ensure a solid hit. This becomes a valuable lesson because your team will be able to save ammo they might need for follow-up missions.
A major US Navy station in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was placed on lockdown April 5 after an active shooter incident on the base.
NAS Air Station Oceana confirmed the incident on Twitter, and said that the perpetrator was “contained.” One person was injured, the station confirmed. Local news anchor Kristen Crowley reported the victim had a minor leg wound.
The base added that the victim was transported to hospital.
NAS OCEANA experienced an Active Shooter incident. The shooter has been contained. The victim has been transported to the hospital. More information to follow.
Naval Air Station Oceana previously announced the lockdown at 7:18 a.m., noting an unspecified “security incident.” It lifted the lockdown one hour later.
All gates to the base are closed and nobody can access it at this time, the Virginia Beach fire Department tweeted.
Police also warned people not to go near the area, local WAVY-TV reporter Katie Collett reported.
Footage outside the base tweeted by local 13NewsNow reporter Chenue Her showed dozens of people in uniform gathered at the entrance. Some of them can be seen hugging each other as they were let out of the base, Her noted.
I’m on my way to Oceana to follow this lockdown. I’ll have more info as soon as I find out. #13NewsNowhttps://twitter.com/13brianfarrell/status/1114128185556459520 …
I drove by the main entrance and it was severely backed up with traffic. Here’s a look down Oceana Blvd near a utility entrance with security at the gate and people gathering. #13NewsNowpic.twitter.com/hd0y6Sr0BJ
Devin Faulkner is an infantry veteran of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team who is pedalling across America on a bike in an effort to raise money for veteran causes.
The 24-year-old began his journey Jun. 4 in San Francisco with the intent of riding to New York across 3,900 miles, mostly avoiding major highways and sticking to roads filled with people and other cyclists.
Faulkner left a job at Monster Energy to attempt his trip. Faulkner began at Monster as a photography intern assigned to cover military and veteran activities. This quickly led to him getting involved with the Warrior Built Foundation, a veteran-ran group sponsored by Monster which provides vets with recreational therapy through racing events, camping trips, and vehicle fabrication.
While working for Monster with Warrior Built Foundation and other veteran groups, Faulkner found himself thinking back to an idea he had mentioned to his old medic, a ride across the entire continental U.S.
And now he’s doing it in what is tentatively planned as a 48-day ride. Faulkner planned the route by looking at weather concerns and finding roads frequented by other cyclists.
“So, my original plan,” Faulkner told WATM, “was to ride from San Bernadino, California, where I live, to New York … but then I thought about, ‘This is June. It’s hot out there. There’s no way I’m built to survive in Arizona on a bicycle without water.'”
So Faulkner looked North and used Strava heat maps to find roads commonly ridden by other cyclists. The final route leads through Nevada and Utah east through Chicago and across to New York. He is hoping to finish in about seven weeks but is leaving himself open to stopping in cities to speak with veteran groups along his route, potentially delaying his arrival in New York.
To keep costs low, he’s carrying a tent and sleeping wherever he can find a spot to pitch it.
Unfortunately, he faced trouble even before he could leave for the trip. Faulkner is coming off of two injuries. The first came during a training ride when he moved to avoid a car and struck an obstacle on the road, hurting his wrist and delaying his training. Right after he was able to return to training, he was hurt again when he was riding a motorcycle to work and was sideswiped by a car.
Still, Faulkner was set on beginning his ride on time and climbed back onto the bike just in time to leave for his trip.
All money he raises on the ride is going to post-traumatic stress and groups, such as Warrior Built, that seek to help veterans suffering from PTSD.
The Pentagon has named a U.S. soldier who died on Nov. 24, 2018, in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand and confirmed that the soldier had been critically wounded during a firefight against “enemy forces” in a neighboring province.
In a statement issued on Nov. 25, 2018, the Pentagon said 25-year-old Army Ranger Sergeant Leandro Jasso sustained his fatal wounds during combat in the Khash Rod district of Nimruz Province.
He died after being evacuated to the Garmsir district of Helmand Province, where U.S. forces operate an expanded forward operations base known as Camp Dwyer and a smaller military installation known as Camp Garmsir.
Jasso was the ninth U.S. soldier to die in Afghanistan in 2018.
Some 14,000 U.S. soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, where the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014.
The remaining Western forces mainly train and advise the Afghan security forces, which have been struggling against attacks from a resurgent Taliban and other militant extremist groups.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said earlier in November 2018 that 58 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2015 when Afghan troops took over primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.
During the same period since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, Ghani said nearly 29,000 Afghan police and soldiers have been killed — a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged by the government in Kabul.
That’s quite a jump from the kw AN/SEQ-3(XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which deployed in 2014 on the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce.
And the kind of power needed to power such a weapon won’t come with a simple flip of a switch.
“The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” says Donald Klick, director of business development, for DRS Power and Control Technologies. “To be putting out 150 kws, they (the laser systems) will be consuming 450 kws.”
That is more than most currently operational ships are designed to accommodate, at least when they are conducting other tasks. “Few power systems onboard ships can support sustained usage of a high-powered laser without additional energy storage,” noted a recent Naval Postgraduate School paper titled “Power Systems and Energy Storage Modeling for Directed Energy Weapons”.
The paper said, “The new DDG-1000 may have enough electrical energy, but other platforms … may require some type of ‘energy magazine.’ This magazine stores energy for on-demand usage by the laser. It can be made up of batteries, capacitors, or flywheels, and would recharge between laser pulses. The energy magazine should allow for sustained usage against a swarm of targets in an engagement lasting up to twenty minutes.
The ship’s integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 78 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to ship technologies and the application of anticipated future weapons systems such as laser weapons and rail guns. The ship’s electric drive uses two main turbine generations with two auxiliary turbine generators which power up two 35-megawatt advanced induction motors, developers explained.
Ideally, it would charge up as fast as it discharges, allowing for indefinite use (as long as there is ship’s fuel to expend). Low maintenance, high safety, and long lifespan are other desirable characteristics.
DRS Power and Control Technologies is one of the companies which is developing a specialized energy source. “We have enough for well over 100 shots before we go to recharge,” DRS’s Klick said during a break at SNA, pointing out there’s even a mode for continuous recharge. “If you’ve got power this kind of power, you don’t go Winchester.”
The DRS system uses a Li-Ion battery subsystem designed and provided by Lithiumstart housed in three distributed steel, welded cabinets that are 48″ x 66″ x 100″ – although they are modular, Klick says, and can be arranged for a tailored fit. Each cabinet contains 18 drawers with 480 Li-Ion phosphate cells in each drawer.
The redundant power modules can provide 465 k each for a total of 930 kw. It can hold that full-power mark for about three minutes, Klick says – although most “lases” are normally of relatively short duration.
An at-sea demonstration of the magazine is slated for 2018, Klick says, mostly with the 150-kw laser being developed by Northrop Grumman for the Office of Naval Research.
The system still must go through rigorous Navy certification testing, Klick says.
He also sees the energy magazine as a candidate for other U.S. military units. “We’re looking at Air Force Special Forces on a C-130. You have to strike a car, but you’re worried about collateral damage. With that pinpoint accuracy, you don’t have to worry about collateral damage. You can just cause a car to stop running. There’s a lot more capability.”
The Navy has already been working with Northrop Grumman on a three-year deal to develop a ship-board laser weapon engineered to quickly incinerate enemy drones, small boats, aircraft, ships and missiles, service officials told Scout Warrior.
“This system employs multi-spectral target detection and track capabilities as well as an advanced off-axis beam director with improved fiber laser technologies to provide extended target engagement ranges. Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased power levels and extended range capabilities. Lessons learned, operating procedures, updated hardware and software derived from previous systems will be incorporated in this demonstration,” Dr. Tom Beutner, director of the Air Warfare and Weapons branch, Office of Naval Research, told Scout Warrior in a written statement at the time of the contract announcement.
A previously established 12-month, $53-million deal between Northrop and the Office of Naval Research will develop a Laser Weapon System Demonstrator through three phases; the phases include an initial design phase, ground-testing phase and then weapons testing at sea aboard a Navy Self Defense test ship, a Northrop statement said.
“The company will design, produce, integrate, and support the shipboard testing of a 150-kilowatt-class solid state (electric) laser weapon system,” the Northrop statement added. “The contract could grow to a total value of $91 million over 34 months if ONR exercises all of its contract options.”
Office of Naval Research officials told Scout Warrior an aim of the developmental program is to engineer a prototype weapons for further analysis.
“The possibilities can become integrated prototypes — and the prototypes become reality when they become acquisition programs,” an ONR official said.
It is not yet clear when this weapon might be operational but the intention seems to be to arm surface ships such as destroyers, cruisers and possibly even carriers or an LCS with inexpensive offensive or defensive laser weapons technology.
“It is way too early to determine if this system will ever become operational. Northrop Grumman has been funded to set-up a demo to “demonstrate” the capabilities to senior leadership, who will then determine whether it is an asset worth further funding and turning into a program of record,” a Navy official told Scout Warrior.
Both Navy and Northrop Grumman officials often talk about the cost advantages of firing laser weapons to incinerate incoming enemy attacks or destroy enemy targets without having to expend an interceptor missile worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Navy officials describe this as getting ahead of the cost curve.
“For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel per shot, we’re offering the Navy a high-precision defensive approach that will protect not only its sailors, but also its wallet,” said Guy Renard, director and program manager, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.
As mentioned, the Navy has already deployed one laser system, called the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, which has been operational for months.
LaWS uses heat energy from lasers to disable or destroy targets fast, slow, stationary and moving targets. The system has successfully incinerated UAVs and other targets in tests shots, and has been operational aboard an amphibious transport dock in the Persian Gulf, the USS Ponce.
The scalable weapon is designed to destroy threats for about $59-cents per shot, an amount that is exponentially lower that the hundreds of thousands or millions needed to fire an interceptor missile such as the Standard Missile-2, Navy officials explained.
While at sea, sailors have been using the LaWS for targeting and training exercises every day and the weapon has even been used to disable and destroy some targets, service officials said.
Navy sailors and engineers have discovered some unanticipated intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance value from the laser weapons system by using its long-range telescope to scan for targets as well, Navy officials said.
Laser weapons are expected to figure prominently in the Navy’s future plans in several respects. New Navy platforms such as the high-tech destroyer, the DDG 1000 or USS Zumwalt, is engineered with an electric drive propulsion system and extra on-board electrical power called an Integraed Power System. This system is in part designed to power-up ship electrical systems and accommodate emerging future weapons systems such as lasers and rail guns.
“Laser weapons provide deep magazines, low cost per shot, and precision engagement capabilities with variable effects that range from dazzling to structural defeat against asymmetric threats that are facing the US Naval force,” Beutner added.
In addition, laser weapons integrate fully into the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy aimed at better arming the surface fleet with a wide array of offensive and defensive weapons.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Marines getting a new sniper rifle that’s forcing the legendary M40 into secondary roles. What you may not know, however, is that the new rifle, the Mk 13 Mod 7, is closely related to the weapon used by Craig Harrison to record one of the longest-range kills in history.
The Mk 13 Mod 7 is based on Accuracy International’s Arctic Warfare sniper rifle, which has been sold to civilians, militaries, and police forces around the globe. The version used by the Marine Corps is chambered for the .300 Winchester Magnum round, uses a five-round detachable magazine, and has an effective range of roughly 1,300 yards. Other versions of the rifle are available, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO and .338 Lapua.
Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison used the L115A3 version of the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum to make the record shot in 2009.
(Photo by Mike Searson)
Accuracy International offers an even more powerful version of this rifle, the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which has been acquired by a number of forces internationally. The AWM comes chambered in either .300 Winchester Magnum or .338 Lapua. In 2009, this rifle (using .338 Lapua rounds) was used by Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison to kill a Taliban machine-gun team from a distance of 2,707 yards — a record at the time.
The L115A3 rifle, which held the record for the longest sniper kill until May 2017.
(Photo by UK Ministry of Defense)
Prior to the Global War on Terror, the mark for the longest sniper kill in history was held by Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock of the United States Marine Corps, who used a modified M2 machine gun to take out an enemy at 2,500 yards in 1967. Since then, the record has been eclipsed four times, including twice in March 2002 by Canadian snipers in Afghanistan.
Remember your first summer job? This author’s was as a door corp member, a host, at his local Waffle House. He was fine at that job and terrible as a waiter on Sunday mornings. But the NSA has a program for teens who want to make a bigger impact: Come to the NSA as an intern before college. And the benefits are better than what this author gets now.
The Gifted Talented STEM Program seeks high school students with credits for physics, calculus, and either computer science, programming, or engineering. Combine those credits with a 1200 or above on the SAT or 25 or above on the ACT, and those students can get a job at an actual spy agency.
The students work full-time over the summer for between 10 and 12 weeks. Benefits include paid time off, holiday and sick leave, housing assistance, free courses, and travel reimbursement.
If the students are really interested in the NSA for a career, they can then enroll in the Stokes Educational Scholarship Program as well. That has all the same benefits of the GT STEM Program, but they also get up to ,000 in tuition assistance, health and life insurance, and credit toward federal retirement.
In addition to the technical internships, the NSA has a language program for high school seniors with an aptitude for the Chinese, Russian, Korean, Farsi, or Arabic languages. There are also high school work-study programs where students work 20 to 32 hours a week during the school year, earning about -12 an hour.
Now, students with those great academic credentials can make real contributions to national security, but the NSA is pretty open about why they really want students to come to the agency for a few summers in a row.
It helps them poach talent away from Silicon Valley.
The NSA is part of the Department of Defense, and it’s the military’s primary arm for cyber security and defense as well as other espionage activities. It absolutely needs top-tier computer talent to do its job and to protect American service members and enable offensive activities across the globe.
But recruiting that talent is tough, especially since software and computer companies have deeper pockets and are looking for the same people. So the NSA hopes that, by allowing the students to see the meaningful impact of their work early on, those same students will come back to the agency after graduation.
In fact, all students that complete their degree on the Stokes scholarship are required to work at the NSA for 1.5 times their length of study. So, six years for the average bachelor’s degree and nine years for the average master’s program.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.
The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.
The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.
They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.
By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.
In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.
In the social media age, U.S. military planners know it is near impossible to move large equipment, like ships and aircraft, without being spotted and having the activity broadcast to the world.
As the Defense Department continues to posture itself to counter China and Russia, one Air Force command is strategizing ways to throw off the enemy by doing everything in plain sight, according to the top general for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.
“That may mean not going into the predictable places or setting up new predictable places,” Gen. Maryanne Miller said. Miller spoke with Military.com during a trip with Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein to the base here.
Executing that strategy could be as simple as sending a C-5 Supergalaxy aircraft instead of a C-17 Globemaster III, on a cargo mission, or by placing cargo in spots the U.S. typically doesn’t operate in, making movements more difficult for observers to interpret.
US Air Force C-5 in flight.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow)
“An example is, if you drive by a 7-11 [store], is that really a 7-11, or what’s really going on in there?” Miller said. “We land places all the time. You can land at MidAmerica [St. Louis] Airport and there may be some customers that are using some of those hangars that do some very special things. But yet when you see that place operate every day, it looks normal.”
She continued, “We need the capacity and the capability to just get to where we need to get to, [and that may be] off the beaten track sometimes.”
The initiative is part of a larger effort to actually shrink the Air Force’s footprint while expanding its reach, added Goldfein. The service has been working on modular bases that would act as small hubs designed to house a quick-reaction force. The Air Force has conducted exercises in Eastern Europe in recent months to see how effectively it can build up, tear down and move to get closer to a potential crisis.
The Air Force may also be able to make use of positions and infrastructure not designed for military purposes.
US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
(US Air Force photo)
“For me, the number one [thing] is, ‘Do we have the right amount of basing and access to be able to perform the global mobility mission?'” Goldfein said. “The global mobility mission requires a number of bases … military and civilian, that we routinely exercise and use. Because in a time of crisis or conflict, you don’t want to start building your basing access at that point. You actually have to have it.”
The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, is working fuel contracts with civilian ports to get more fuel access for Air Force planes, he said.
“We’re going to all these different places all the time to make sure that we can move an airplane; every three minutes, there’s somebody taking off or landing to do that,” Goldfein said.
There are also lessons to be learned from close international partners, Goldfein said.
For example, “India, in the global mobility business, actually operates the highest-altitude C-17 operations on the planet,” Goldfein said.
“We have a lot to learn from India in high altitude and mobility operations. And we have a lot to offer India when it comes to global mobility and how we operate back and forth. So that’s one example where … we’re more competitive because we … build trust and confidence at a different level,” Goldfein said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Man’s best friend has also been man’s battle buddy for as long as dogs have been domesticated. The mechanical, industrialized slaughter in the trenches of World War I didn’t change that one bit. All the belligerents let slip the dogs of war, some 30,000 in all. They were used to hunt rats, guard posts as sentries, scout ahead, and even comfort the dying.
The last were the mercy dogs of the Great War.
Our canine companions can do much more than just fight alongside us in times of war. Modern-day uses of dogs include bomb-sniffing and locating the bodies of the fallen. World War I saw some uses of dogs unique to that war, especially in terms of hunting the rats that spread disease and ate corpses in the trenches. Dogs were used in scouting parties; their unique senses, especially smell, allowed them to detect the presence of enemy troops long before their human counterparts. When on guard duty, sentry dogs alerted their handlers to even the most silent of a human presence. But the dogs of mercy were truly the most unique among them.
Mercy dogs, also called casualty dogs, were first trained by the Germanic armies of the 19th Century, but their popularity only grew. The sanitatshunde were trained to find the wounded and dying anywhere on the battlefield. Sometimes they carried medical supplies to help the wounded care for themselves until they could find care from a doctor or medic. If the soldier was too far gone for medical care, the dog would stay with him as he died, to ensure he wasn’t alone.
Mercy Dogs leave no man behind.
The most common kind of dog on the battlefields were German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, both of German origin. This was mostly due to their intelligence, endurance, and ability to be trained for even the most dangerous tasks. For the mercy dog, the most popular and able breed was the Boxer. Boxers are not only able to do what other breeds could but they were also fiercely loyal and on top of comforting the wounded and dying, they would also guard and defend them until the end.
If a mercy dog on the battlefield found a wounded man, it would return to friendly lines with its own leash in its mouth, indicating that one of their own was out there and in need of help. Most importantly, the dogs were able to distinguish between a dead and unconscious man. If he was dead, the dog would move on. If he were dying, the dog would stay with him.
Thousands of wounded troops owed their lives to these dogs.
This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.
The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”
Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.
1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.
Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.
Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.
“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”
Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.
“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”
2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.
You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.
“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”
She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.
“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”
3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.
If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.
In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).
4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.
When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.
“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”
A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”
“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”
The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.
“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”
5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.
“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”
The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.
A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)
“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”
6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.
When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.
“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”
Eric Bourquin agrees.
“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”
A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)
The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.
The U.S. military is still holding the Mother of All Bombs over the Taliban’s heads like 21,600-pound GPS-guided sword of Damocles.
In April 2017, a U.S. aircraft dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on a cave complex being used by the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, marking the first time the weapon had been used in combat.
Although U.S. forces in Afghanistan have not used the MOAB again since then, “It’s there if we need it,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of coalition air forces in Afghanistan.
“We never take anything off the table,” Hecker told reporters at the Pentagon. “Right now, we don’t have a use for it, but if we do, it’s there for us.”
The bomb was rapidly designed and built between November 2002 and March 2003, ahead of the initial invasion of Iraq. It was designed to be a replacement for the massive BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” according to the Air Force. When it was first tested on March 11, 2003, the explosion created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away.
By the time the MOAB arrived in theater, coalition forces were close to Baghdad. It would be 14 years before the weapon would make its debut when it was dropped in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province following the death of a Special Forces soldier fighting ISIS-Khorasan.
News that the bomb had finally been used created a media sensation that made Hecker’s mother concerned about him.
“Quite honestly, after only being here a week and my mom heard that a MOAB was dropped, she immediately sent me a note and asked if I was OK,” Hecker said. “I let her know that we won’t drop on ourselves. This is meant for the enemy.”
With ISIS fighters going underground in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command has made Afghanistan the priority for air operations.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan now have 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones to find targets, as well as an A-10 squadron to provide close air support, Hecker said. A combat search and rescue squadron is also being deployed to the country.
On Feb. 4, a B-52 dropped a total of 24 precision-guided bombs — a new record — during three airstrikes against Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement training camps in northeast Afghanistan, Hecker said. Previously, B-52s only had room for 16 precision-guided bombs, but in late November, the bomber was modified for an increased payload at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Afghan air force is dropping or launching weapons at the enemy at nearly double the rate of U.S. aircraft, Hecker said. However, he clarified, most of those strikes come from the Afghan fleet of 25 MD-530 helicopters, which are equipped with laser-guided rockets and machine guns.
Hecker conceded that strikes from a light attack helicopter and a B-52 don’t exactly make for an apples-to-apples comparison. “But I wouldn’t say it’s apples to oranges either,” he said.