How airmen prepare for the Army's legendary Ranger School - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Imagine signing up to be starved, sleep deprived and trying to fight for survival during a 19-day combat leadership course in the mosquito-, rattlesnake- and wild boar-infested hilly terrain north of San Antonio with 28 other Airmen.

This was the scenario for 29 Airmen who took part in the Ranger Assessment Course at Camp Bullis, Texas, Oct. 29 – Nov. 16. Upon successful completion of RAC, the Airmen would have a chance to enroll in the coveted, yet even more grueling, Army Ranger Course.


How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Airmen from different career fields challenge themselves in the Ranger Assessment course which is a combat leadership course which can lead to attending Army Ranger School. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.

One of the 12 instructors, Tech. Sgt. Gavin Saiz from the 435th Security Forces Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said RAC is a combat leadership course emphasizing doctrine that uses a host of tactical and technical procedures to instruct the students, who have to learn and apply a firehose of information in a short period.

Qualified Airmen from any career field can attend the course, which is held twice a year. Efforts are underway to see if the course can be expanded to four times a year in order to conduct them in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Pacific Air Forces. If the applicant is physically and mentally qualified, they can enroll in the course, but not everyone makes it to the finish line. The course has a 66-percent fail rate.

Since 1955 when the Army began accepting Airmen into its school, nearly 300 Airmen have earned the Ranger tab. The Army Ranger Course is one of the Army’s toughest leadership courses, with a concentration on small-unit tactics and combat leadership. The course seeks to develop proficiency in leading squad and platoon dismounted operations in an around-the-clock, all-climates and terrain atmosphere. RAC is based on the first two weeks of the Army Ranger Course.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

The RAC instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain. They push the students to improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.

Capt. Nicholas Cunningham, 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, was one of five students selected for the Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC) which is a dynamic two-week spin up to acclimate Army and sometimes joint or partner service members to the rigors of Ranger School. If he successfully completes that course, he may be referred to Army Ranger School. “The course taught us tons of lessons about working as a team, pushing past mental limits and mostly leadership,” he said. “Where we as Ranger students at first were acting as individuals, we had to shift toward operating together as a single unit. The more we acted by ourselves, the worse we did as a team. To meet the objective, whether it was packing our clothes within a certain amount of time or assaulting an enemy force, required every Ranger to do their part of the task and then some.”

After the first week of classroom and hands-on training, Sloat said they select students for various leadership positions for the missions and then challenge them to plan, prepare and conduct missions, whether it is a recon or ambush mission. They plan backwards based on a higher headquarters Operation Order.

On the last day of missions, ten tired, hungry and cold Airmen made it to the finish line, having tested their mettle to the extremes. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.

The first female to finish the course, 2nd Lt. Chelsey Hibsch from Yokota Air Base, Japan, has also been selected for RTAC. She said she saw more individuals fail as a follower because they didn’t want to go out of their way to help their partners succeed. “Those who were good followers tended to have others follow them with more enthusiasm because they had each other’s backs,” she said. “You learn how you react when everything is against you. Some individuals pressed on and others froze.”

The Air Force Security Forces Center, one of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s subordinate units, hosted the course. The instructors, all having been through the course and graduated Army Ranger School, put the students through the mind-numbing days and nights. The instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for Airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain and improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.

Below are the names of those who successfully met the challenge in the 19-01 Ranger Assessment Course and will be recommended to attend the Army Ranger Course:
Staff Sgt. Paul Cdebaca/TACP/3 Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson, Alaska
Staff Sgt. Mark Bunkley/TACP/350 SWTS – Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas
Senior Airman Troy Hicks/TACP/ 7 Air Support Operations Squadron– Ft. Bliss, Texas
Senior Airman Aaron Lee/SF/9 Security Forces Squadron, Beale AFB, California
Senior Airman Zachary Scott/SF/802 Security Forces Squadron, JBSA – Lackland, Texas

A second group of Airmen recommended for RTAC along with Cunningham and Hibsch:
Senior Airman Sage Featherstone/TACP/7 Air Support Operations Squadron, Ft. Bliss, Texas
Senior Airman Austin Flores/SF/75 Security Forces Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah
Staff Sgt. Brayden Morrow/SF/341 Security Support Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana

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Hero Marine working dog Cena laid to rest at the ‘Arlington of dogs’

A group of six German shepherds gave a final salute August 28 in honor of a fellow canine who served three tours of duty as a military working dog for the US Marine Corps and died on July 27 at age 10 after a weeks’ long battle with bone cancer.


The German shepherds, which are part of the K-9 Salute Team, were trained to kneel and howl on command in honor of Cena, a black lab who was euthanized in July and whose remains were interred August 28 at the Michigan War Dog Memorial in Lyon Township.

The memorial site, which hosted the public service and private interment, has about 10 military dogs buried beside 2,150 pets interred at the historic pet cemetery, according to memorial president and director Phil Weitlauf.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
DeYoung and Cena. Photo from American Humane via NewsEdge.

Cena, a bomb-sniffing dog, belonged to Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeffrey DeYoung, 27, of Muskegon, who said he adopted the black lab in June 2014 after Cena underwent a year of rehabilitation therapy. DeYoung said that he and Cena served together on a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan that began in October 2009.

Cena also served with Jon North, a Marine sergeant from Osage, Iowa, who was present at the ceremony, and one other soldier who was not able to be there.

DeYoung said in a eulogy at the memorial service that Cena endured various injuries on his tours of duty, and that he and Cena encountered three improvised explosive devices together. Cena was officially an IED detection dog with the Marine Corps. The dogs walk ahead of patrols and pick up the scent of the explosives in the area and sit down near the explosive before a bomb-disarming unit comes, Weitlauf said.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
USMC photo by Cpl. Cody Haas.

“In every aspect of Cena, he has shed blood, pain, sweat, and tears for this country,” DeYoung said.

North, 28, who served one year with Cena in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 didn’t speak at the service, but told the Free Press that Cena was known for being “a slow, old man” and that he was “just kind of a goofy old dog.”

“By the end of your time together, he’s more like a brother, more like a kid. It’s hard to let him go,” North said.

Together, DeYoung and North carried an urn containing Cena’s ashes in a funeral procession that included bagpipers and a military color guard.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
USMC Lance Cpl. Jon North and Cena in Marja, Afghanistan. Photo from DoD.

Weitlauf said that three separate Jeep convoys — including one from Muskegon with DeYoung escorting Cena’s remains — traversed different parts of the state to make it to the service, linking up at different locations including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and New Hudson. He said that about 80 Jeeps participated in the convoys, and that about 600 people attended the funeral service — nearly double the 350 attendees the services normally get.

DeYoung, who is a professional public speaker, said that after adopting Cena in 2014, their job wasn’t yet over. They spent the next several years journeying across the country together to places such as President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and the US Congress, where DeYoung discussed the need to bring home all war dogs prior to retirement “so that what happened in Vietnam with the euthanasia will never happen again.”

At the end of that war, troops were ordered to leave their dogs in Vietnam out of fear of a logistical nightmare and concerns of disease being brought back, Weitlauf said. They had the option to give the dogs over to the South Vietnamese army or to euthanize them, he said. Over 4,000 were left behind, and only 204 made it back home, Weitlauf said.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith

Tom Strempka, 69, of Bloomfield Hills was deployed to Vietnam in 1971 at the age of 23, where he served a six-month tour of duty and suffered injuries. He said the funeral gave him closure.

Strempka said that war dogs in Vietnam once saved his platoon of 30 men from an ambush.

“I’m out here for every funeral because it’s long overdue for everyone to recognize the importance of dogs as being part of the unit and not a piece of equipment, the way the government treated them in Vietnam,” Strempka said. “And it’s a glorious day, and I guess that it gives me a little more peace of mind.”

For DeYoung, laying Cena to rest at what he described as the ” Arlington of dogs” also provided some closure.

“Cena’s journey in my life is done. Our work is not, so I will continue doing so in his honor,” DeYoung said to reporters before the ceremony.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Coast Guard cooks its way to the top

The United States Coast Guard Culinary Team beat 19 competitors to be named 2020 Joint Culinary Training Exercise Installation of the Year.

The competition included teams from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and international teams from France, Germany and Great Britain, with the Coast Guard earning 20 medals — five gold, six silver and nine bronze, according to a Facebook post. Chief Petty Officer Edward Fuchs, team manager, says training time helped the chefs prepare.

“One of the things that gave us a leg up this year that we’ve never had before is that we had 10 days of training time leading up to it,” Fuchs said. He added that time to run through everything with a team that had never worked together before, made all the difference. He credits Master Chief Matthew Simolon and his crew for opening up the USCG Yorktown, Virginia, galley for their team as one of the reasons they won.


How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Chief Petty Officer Scott Jeffries, the Coast Guard Team Advisor, shared that many of the other military branch teams competing there had been working on their craft together for six months or longer to prepare for the competition.

“The reaction from them when they would learn about us (USCG team) only being together for nine days prior to the start of the competition was pretty awesome. They understand how hard this thing is and how much work goes into it,” Jeffries said. “The Yorktown galley made it all possible by getting us rations or running us to the store. Without them, this wouldn’t have been successful at all.”

The road to competing in this culinary competition isn’t easy. The hours are long, often stretching into 12-plus hour days. Fuchs shared there was one stretch where he was away from his hotel room for 30 hours. But that continuous hard work and unfailing dedication paid off.

Fuchs said the Coast Guard has always had to work a little harder because all of the rules and important communications come through the Department of Defense, which led to his team being behind on this year because the group was left out of those important emails. He also shared that throughout the 14 years since the Coast Guard first competed, there were years they weren’t funded to compete.

“For a while it was just us and our personal funds keeping it alive,” he said.

One year, as an example, they were sponsored by The Coast Guard Foundation. In years past, the chefs competing were mostly those located in Washington, D.C. and the Virginia areas that were close by to the Fort Lee competition because they just couldn’t afford to bring in chefs from units throughout the country. He continued saying that “we kept it on life support, waiting for that funding stream to come through.”

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Jeffries echoed Fuchs statement, saying for years it really was a few of them spending thousands of dollars each to maintain a Coast Guard team.

“The coverage was still there because that was our way of being able to showcase to the right avenues, ‘hey we are out here doing awesome stuff and representing the Coast Guard in a great light’ … let’s fund this thing so we can get other people out here,” he said.

They got their wish. The Coast Guard team has been funded for the last two years and this year they were able to bring in chefs from all over the fleet; something they have never been able to do before. And this year’s team was a vibrant representation of the force’s culinary rate and it made all the difference.

“We’ve done this for 14 years and every year you think you have a chance (for culinary team of the year) and then it’s not you. … It’s indescribable, that feeling that you feel when you train a team and they win it. I can’t even put into words the pride and the joy watching them go up on stage to receive the award for culinary team of the year,” Fuchs said.

“We were celebrating the night before because of how great of a job that everyone did in their own personal competitions. The Coast Guard medaled every competition and we already knew that our Coast Guard Chef of the Year had a shot at Armed Forces Chef of the Year, something that the Coast Guard had never won. There was just already so much to celebrate,” Jeffries said.

Both Fuchs and Jeffries describe an “intense” energy in the room after Team Coast Guard was announced as the winner. And so was the respect.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

popular

How drug dealers used the US military to smuggle heroin

In the early 1970s, Harlem-based drug kingpin, Frank Lucas, was slinging his signature brand of heroin all over New York and the east coast. “Blue Magic,” as it was called, was the best-selling, closest-to-pure Asian heroin you could get.


 

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
Blue Magic envelopes. (Image from the Netflix documentary, Drug Lords)

 

New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor called Lucas, “one of the most outrageous international dope-smuggling gangs ever… an innovator who got his own connection outside the U.S. and then sold the stuff himself in the street.” That connection was in Vietnam, where the United States was embroiled in a years-long conflict. It presented Lucas with an easy opportunity to move his product.

No, it was not in the coffins of dead service members as Lucas originally claimed, nor was it in specially-made coffins or false-bottomed coffins. These are all claims made by Lucas, who is now 87 years old, at various times. The heroin was moved by U.S. military members on military planes, however.

 

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
Frank Lucas today.

 

Charles Lutz, who served in Vietnam with the 525th Military Intelligence Group and spent 32 years as a federal narcotics agent, was part of the team that toppled Frank Lucas’ Asia-based heroin supply chain. He detailed how, exactly, military investigators and drug enforcement agent cracked the scheme for History Net.

Two Army NCOs, Leslie “Ike” Atkinson and William “Jack” Jackson, met at Fort Bragg early in their careers. While in Vietnam, they made money buying Military Payment Certificates on the cheap and trading them in for cash on the border. When they got tired of that, they started smuggling heroin from a bar they purchased in Bangkok.

 

Staff Sgt. Jasper Myrick, Atkinson, and Jackson would cheat soldiers at cards and forgive their debt if they moved a shipment of heroin in their personal luggage back to the States. Even though he was caught trying to mail heroin through false-bottomed AWOL bags and thrown in prison in 1975, he continued to move product. After all, he was Frank Lucas’ chief supplier.

Army Criminal Investigators were connected through a DEA informant in Bangkok who connected them to Atkinson’s supplier. Posing as street thugs, they set up a fake buy. After they had evidence against Atkinson’s buyer, they convinced him to come to the U.S. for some fun in Las Vegas. Not only did he come, he brought a kilo of heroin with him.

Even though he was eventually busted and sentenced to 30 years, he wouldn’t give up the former Master Sgt. Atkinson. Luckily, there were two other recently retired military members in Bangkok. One of them told the DEA and Army CID that Atkinson was moving a giant shipment to the U.S. soon.

(Al Profit | YouTube)

 

That’s when luck blew the case wide open.

Staff Sgt. Jasper Myrick was having his household items inspected for a coming move to Fort Benning. The Army inspector found 100 pounds of “China White” heroin hidden in Myrick’s furniture. But the DEA still needed to trace it back to Atkinson.

Thai police traced the furniture back to its manufacturer where they identified an associate of Atkinson’s, Jimmy Smedley, a retired Army NCO who also ran Atkinson’s nightclub in Bangkok. They also found orders for Myrick’s move and orders for another soldier who recently moved to Augusta, Georgia.

But that soldier’s furniture was already emptied. One of Atkinson’s known associates, an Air Force NCO named Freddie Thornton, had stayed at a motel in the area recently. Agents picked up him and everyone associated with the heroin move.

It was the largest heroin smuggling operation in American history.

Thornton turned on Atkinson and everyone involved was convicted. The heroin was never recovered and was valued at $5 million on the streets.

 

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
The film American Gangster was loosely based on Lucas’ story.

 

Frank Lucas, the drug dealer who took credit for smuggling heroin in the coffins of dead servicemen, was arrested before Atkinson in 1975. Originally sentenced to 70 years, he turned on everyone and got his sentence reduced significantly.

Atkinson calls his claim of using coffins “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Listen to the cockpit audio of the Navy’s infamous ‘sky penis’ flight

After the laughter died down, many of us wondered what the hell the pilots who drew the Navy’s penis in the sky – now known everywhere as the “sky penis” – were thinking. We may never know exactly what was going through their minds, but now at least we know what they were saying when they drew the now-famous celestial phallus.

“You should totally try to draw a penis.”


It was a clear day over Washington state in 2017, when suddenly the skies were marred by what appeared to be a huge dong in the wild blue yonder. Thousands of feet above the earth, U.S. Navy pilots behind the sticks of an EA-18G Growler were giggling up a storm after noticing their contrails looked particularly white against the vivid blue backdrop of the sky.

They didn’t notice the contrails weren’t dissipating quite as fast as they hoped they would. At least, that’s what the official cockpit audio recording says.

“My initial reaction was no, bad,” the pilot wrote in a statement. “But for some reason still unknown to me, I eventually decided to do it.”

While the above recording isn’t the official audio – the Navy didn’t release the audio, just the transcripts – it’s a pretty good replica done by the guys from the Aviation Lo Down podcast. It includes such gems as:

  • “You should totally try to draw a penis.”
  • “Which way is the shaft going?”
  • “It’s gonna be a wide shaft.”
  • “I don’t wanna make it just like 3 balls.”

While everyone involved seemed pleased with their great work, including the commander of the training mission in another Growler, they soon realized the contrails were still there, their magnum opus firmly painted on the sky for all the world to see – and see they did. Residents of Okanogan soon called into their local news station to complain about the large drawing in the sky.

The Navy has not released the identities of those involved in creating the most memorable public achievement made by the Navy since Top Gun, it has only ever mentioned the two junior-ranking pilots were highly skilled and good leaders who one might think would know better.

More importantly, no one knows what became of them. Here’s to hoping they got tickets to the Army-Navy Game.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Special Operations hand-to-hand combat in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, it became very clear that the U.S. military needed to revise its hand-to-hand training. This was particularly apparent amongst SOF units, especially Army Special Forces, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), Navy SEALs, and Recon Marines since these units were often sent in small teams deep into enemy territory for extended periods of time.

These types of missions required not just CQB, but silent, quick killing techniques, typically with the knife, garrote, or bare hands. But, again, training remained the “flavor of the month” and it was dependent upon traditional Asian martial arts systems and trial and error lessons learned through field operations. Illustrating that, SF veteran Joe Lenhart said in the 1960s, “In SF if you were around the Hawaiians, you had the opportunity to learn some good MA.”


Lenhart’s comment is a testament to three things: First, the need to tap martial arts talents within units and amongst the ranks, even in SF. Second, the underlying ignorance of, or unfamiliarity with, established Army hand-to-hand training and programming. And third, the richness of Hawaiian martial arts culture, which was due mostly to the Japanese diaspora in the 1920s that scattered Japanese across the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii, and South America.

Jerry Powell, another SF veteran, said, “In Training Group in 1963, and subsequently in the 5th Group, any hand-to-hand training that I saw was pretty much on my own time.” Tom Marzullo, a third SF veteran, said of his time in SF Training Group in 1969, “Hand-to-hand was absent during my SF time and I was deeply disappointed.” In wartime, in all militaries, even in SOF units, training is changed and bars are raised and lowered to meet the manpower needs of the engaged units.

Historically, hand-to-hand training has been one of those things that have always been reduced or cut in order to get more troops trained faster and off to the fight. Another factor of that time was culture and how boys were raised. According to Lenhart:

“Like many or even most [boys] my age [late 60s], we grew up wrestling and boxing with towels wrapped around our fists, had rival school “meetings” every now and then, and there was the county fair that… usually escalated into a scuffle or three. Thing is, back then, when it was over, it was over, at least for a while. Maybe a broken nose, shiner, busted lip, or jammed finger or so was about as bad as it got, except for a few bruised egos. But when the city boys got involved, there would be a couple switch blades and chains produced only to be met with pitchforks and corn cutters and a ball bat or two. Those engagements did not last very long.”

The point is that back in those days, few boys entered adulthood not having been in at least a few fights. American boys in the past fought and wrestled more growing up and thus were more acclimated to and prepared, especially mentally, for hand-to-hand combat. American culture has changed in that respect.

Now it is probably the reverse: Few boys enter adulthood having been in any fights. There are, of course, exceptions. There are still rough neighborhoods and cities. But today, even country kids are more likely to do their fighting in video games than at county fairs or Friday night football games. (Parenthetically, many SF NCOs worry that the same dynamic is eroding innate land navigation skills.)

Here, Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do system deserve mention. He had a major impact on U.S. and international martial arts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore on military combatives. Lee believed that martial arts had become rigid and unrealistic. He taught that real combat is unpredictable and chaotic and that the fighter or warrior must prepare for that.

Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally published in 2015, is part of a series. You can read part I here, part II here, and part III here.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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The Army just released these images taken moments before a combat photographer’s death

The Army has released an image taken by a combat photographer moments before she was killed in an explosion during a 2013 live-fire training exercise in eastern Afghanistan.


Spc. Hilda I. Clayton, a visual information specialist assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), was killed while photographing a live-fire training exercise on July 2 in Laghman Province. Four Afghan National Army soldiers were also killed when a mortar tube accidentally exploded.

One of the Afghan soldiers killed was a photojournalist whom Clayton had been training.

The primary mission of Combat Camera soldiers is to accompany soldiers on deployments to document the history of combat operations.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
Spc. Hilda I. Clayton | US Army

“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts,” the Army said in a statement.

Clayton’s name has since been added to the Defense Information School Hall of Heroes at Fort Meade. The award for the winner of Combat Camera’s annual competition was also named after her.

“The Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition consists of five days of events to test joint service combat camera personnel on their physical and technical skills,” the Army said.

Here are the images the Army released:

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
Clayton took this photo. | U.S. Army Spc. Hilda I. Clayton/US Army

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
An Afghan soldier took this photo. | Afghan photojournalist/US Army

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iranian links: New Taliban splinter group emerges that opposes U.S. Peace Deal

A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February.


The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.

It is unclear whether the new splinter group will rally broad support but its emergence could pose a new hurdle for the U.S.-Taliban deal, which has been undermined by violence, disputes, and delays.

Under that agreement, international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.

‘Early Stages Of Forming’

Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said it appears the new splinter group is based in Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has a sizeable Afghan population.

“It’s still in the early stages of forming,” said Giustozzi, adding that the military strength and the leadership of the faction is unknown.

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the new splinter group has not been “officially announced.” The official said members of the group included radical Taliban commanders and members of small Taliban offshoots.

A new report by a United Nations monitoring team made public on June 1 said that “at least one group of senior Taliban” had “formed a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement.”

The breakaway faction was “composed mainly of dissident senior Taliban members residing outside Afghanistan,” said the report, which was based on information provided by Afghan and foreign intelligence and security services, think tanks, experts, and interlocutors.

Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami joins a growing list of Taliban factions that support continued fighting against Afghan and international troops.

“There are several Taliban leaders, fronts, and commanders who oppose peace and are linked to Iran,” said Giustozzi.

Among them, he added, is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban and the head of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

That is despite Haqqani’s op-ed in February in The New York Times, in which he voiced support for the peace deal with the United States.

Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s operational chief, has a million U.S. bounty on his head. He is the son of the late radical Islamist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Al-Qaeda-linked network blamed for some of Afghanistan’s deadliest suicide attacks.

The Haqqani network has strong ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Giustozzi said the network is “getting closer” to Iran as Islamabad and Riyadh cut funding to it.

Other Iran-linked Taliban leaders who oppose peace efforts include Mullah Qayum Zakir, a powerful battlefield commander and the former military chief of the Taliban until 2014. A former inmate in the infamous U.S. prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Mullah Zakir has the backing of hard-line field commanders.

Mullah Zakir leads a conservative Taliban faction along with Ibrahim Sadr, the Taliban’s former military commission chief. In October 2018, Sadr was among eight Taliban members designated global terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” the Treasury Department said, adding that “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new splinter group included the followers of Sadr.

The officials said the new group also includes members of the Feday-e Mahaz (Suicide Brigade) a small, hard-core offshoot of the mainstream Taliban.

The group is believed to be led by Haji Najibullah, a loyalist to radical Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S.-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007.

The group, vehemently against reconciliation with Kabul, has claimed several high-profile assassinations over the years.

‘Material Support’

Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Tehran also provided help to U.S. forces as they toppled the Taliban regime. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

Tehran has confirmed it has contacts with the Taliban but insists that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.

But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of providing material support to the Taliban, an allegation it denies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January accused Tehran of “actively working” to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan, adding that Iran was supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

In a report released in November, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said Iran provides financial, political, training, and material support to the Taliban.

“Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government,” the report said, adding that Iran’s support enabled it to advance its interests in Afghanistan and attain “strategic depth” in the country.

Taliban Divided Over Peace

The emergence of the Taliban splinter group has exposed serious divisions within the militant group.

The Taliban is believed to be divided over a peace settlement.

Its political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to a peace deal but hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan demand the restoration of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Internal Taliban divisions have intensified after the death of founder and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Some Taliban commanders accused his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, of covering up Mullah Omar’s death and assuming leadership of the extremist group without proper approval.

Mullah Mansur struggled to quell the internal dissent and reconcile feuding factions, with some commanders splitting from the group and challenging his leadership.

Mullah Mansur was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The succession of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a low-key Islamic scholar who was Mullah Mansur’s deputy, was also opposed.

But experts said the Taliban has overcome the succession crises, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces.

Borhan Osman, an independent analyst and a leading expert on Islamic extremism and the militant networks operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said divisions within the Taliban are not yet visible.

“So far the Taliban has been successful in spinning the agreement with the United States as an outright victory,” he said.

Osman said the Taliban’s unity will be tested during intra-Afghan talks, when Afghan and Taliban negotiators will discuss a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal.

The negotiations were scheduled to start in March but were delayed by disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners by the government and escalating militant attacks.

“The Taliban will be forced to come up with specific positions on issues and present their vision for a future Afghanistan,” said Osman.

The Taliban has been ambiguous on key issues, including women’s rights, the future distribution of power, and changes to the Afghan Constitution, reflecting the divisions within the group.

Many expect intra-Afghan negotiations to be complex and protracted, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Taliban Offshoots

Internal rifts and rivalries have led to the emergence of various Taliban offshoots over the years, although many lack the military strength and support to pose a threat to the mainstream group.

The High Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul — has been engaged in deadly clashes with fighters from the mainstream Taliban in southern and western Afghanistan since 2015, leaving scores dead on both sides.

The clashes have left the offshoot severely weakened, experts said, with many considering the group to be militarily irrelevant.

Mullah Rasul is believed to receive arms and support from Afghan intelligence in an attempt to divide the militant group.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Silent killers: These are the invisible, respiratory dangers that put our service members at risk

This post is sponsored by O2 Tactical.

You’ve been trained to recognize threats. You can spot an IED, read an unruly crowd, identify enemy armor from klicks away, and you know a predatory car loan when you see one. But what about those threats that don’t keep you up at night? What about the threats you can’t see?


The operational tempo of the last two decades has exposed military personnel to a myriad of dangers on and off the battlefield. While the conducting of combat operations poses the most obvious direct threat to our service members’ health, the existence of more discreet threats should not be overlooked. Respiratory health risks exist, both on the battlefield and in training environments, and mitigation should be prioritized to ensure both the health and safety of our service members and the combat effectiveness of our nation’s armed forces.

Fortunately, unseen doesn’t mean unidentified. Here are a few examples of the most pervasive invisible threats:

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Lead dust exposure

Exposure to lead is an inevitable byproduct of firearms training. When a weapon is fired, small amounts of lead particles are discharged into the air, posing a risk to shooters and weapons instructors alike. These particles are expelled through the ejection port on the firearm as the spent casing is ejected, as well as from the muzzle as the bullet leaves the barrel. Although invisible to the naked eye, these particles can be inhaled and accumulate on skin and clothing.

Because of the occupational necessity of range training time for military, law enforcement and security personnel, this population may be at risk for higher BLL (Blood Lead Levels). Lead is a heavy metal that has long been associated with a variety of health risks ranging from heart and kidney disease to reduced fertility, memory loss and cancer. Children tend to be more susceptible to lead poisoning and may be exposed second-hand through interaction with personnel in contaminated uniforms. These risks can be mitigated by eliminating food and drink at firing ranges, promptly changing clothes after a range session, and of course, proper ventilation at shooting ranges and facilities.

The threats posed by lead dust exposure are very real, and the Department of Defense has taken notice. As of April 2017, DoD made their lead exposure levels more restrictive than the OSHA standard, in an effort to limit the prolonged exposure of personnel. The Army has also published guidance to their personnel as to ways to reduce the risks to themselves and their families.


How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School
Iraqi Freedom

Burn pits

Burn pits have been used extensively in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste products, and their use has generated a lot of media attention over the last several years, and with good reason. Thousands of veterans were likely exposed to the harmful fumes caused by the burning of waste products, food scraps, trash, tires, plastics, batteries, and a whole host of other items. Since the Veterans Administration established the voluntary burn pit registry to keep track of burn pit exposure, more than 180,000 veterans have registered. While there are several potential causes of respiratory health problems while deployed, ranging from sandstorms to exposure to diesel exhaust, burn pits are suspected of causing a variety of problems. Some of these include asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart conditions, leukemia and lung cancer.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

Asbestos exposure

While less of a concern today, asbestos was a commonly used material for a variety of construction-related purposes from the 1930s to the 1970s. Although the practice of using asbestos ended in the 1970s and the military has made a concerted effort to limit personnel to its exposure, the material remained in buildings for the following decades. The material was used as insulation in walls, floors and pipes, and even in aircraft and vehicle brakes and gaskets. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs, notably the lungs and chest wall. There are many MOS’ that are at higher risk of asbestos exposure to include carpenters, pipefitters, aircraft mechanics, welders, electrician’s mates, and Seabees. For more information regarding asbestos exposure and the benefits available to you, please visit https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/asbestos/

Service in the military is undoubtedly an honorable profession that comes with inherent hazards to both health and safety. Service members should take control of their safety when it is possible to avoid dangers that are both seen and unseen.

Companies like O2 Tactical are at the forefront in addressing these threats. The company, which is comprised of engineers, designers, veterans and industry experts, has developed the TR2 Tactical Respirator II respiratory system with the operator in mind.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last World War I soldier to see combat died at age 111

On Sept. 22, 1917, a British Lewis gun team was hit by an incoming German shell during the third Battle of Ypres, near Passchendaele, Harry Patch was a member of that team. He was blown away by the blast, but his other three teammates were completely vaporized. He never saw them again. Patch struggled for years to tell that story, which he finally did before he died in 2009.

At his death, the last British Tommy to see World War I combat was 111 years, one month, one week, and one day old.


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A Canadian soldier tests out a Lewis Gun similar to the one Harry Patch worked in World War I.

With Patch went our collective connection to a bygone era. While other Great War veterans outlived Patch, Patch was the last among them to fight in the mud, the wet, the disease-ridden trenches of World War I’s Western Front. He was born in 1898 and drafted into the British Army at age 18. After a brief training period, Private Patch was sent to the Western Front with the other members of his Lewis Gun team during the winter of 1916. The next year is when the German artillery round hit his position and killed his friends.

Patch was still wounded and recovering by the time of the Armistice in November 1918. For the rest of his life, he considered September 22 to be his remembrance day, not November 11.

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Patch with Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry in 2008.

By the time World War II rolled around, Harry Patch was much too old to join the Army and served as a firefighter in the British city of Bath instead. Patch never discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, let alone journalists, so he declined interviews until 1998, when the BBC pointed out to him that the number of World War I veterans still alive was shrinking fast. His first appearance was World War I in Colour, where he recalled the first time he came face to face with an enemy soldier. He shot to wound the man, not kill him. Patch was not a fan of killing, even in warfare.

“Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left,” he told the BBC in 2007.

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Six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles bear the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral in 2009.

Before his death, Harry Patch returned to the fields of Passchendaele where his three best friends met their end. He was going to once again meet a German, but this time there would be only handshakes. At age 106, Patch met Charles Kuentz, 107-year-old German World War I veteran who fought the British at Passchendaele. The two exchanged gifts and talked about the futility of war.

Patch wrote his memoirs at 107, to become the oldest author ever, and later watched as World War I-era planes dropped poppies over Somerset in memoriam to those who served. He died in 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week, and one day. The bells of Wells Cathedral in Somerset were rung 111 times in his honor.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Netanyahu says he’s warned Europe of Iran’s danger

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Iran the “most potent force of militant Islam,” says he has warned Europe of possible Iranian attacks on its soil.

Speaking to reporters on Nov. 1, 2018, after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart in Sofia, Netanyahu said radical Islam is a threat to the world and that Israel has recently revealed a number of Iranian plots to carry out attacks on European soil.

Netanyahu did not provide details, but cases involving alleged Iranian plots to attack Iranian opposition groups or figures in both France and Denmark have emerged in recent months.


The Israeli premier’s warnings about Iranian plots in Europe have been part of his campaign to pressure European nations to take a tougher stance toward Tehran.

Israel was one of the only countries to side with the United States in its decision to pull out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimpose sanctions.

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The ministers of foreign affairs of France, Germany, the European Union, Iran, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as Chinese and Russian diplomats announcing the framework for a Comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, April 2, 2015.

European countries refused to follow suit, and European powers Germany, France, and Britain have been working with Iran to keep the nuclear agreement in place and circumvent U.S. sanctions.

Ahead of his trip to Bulgaria, Netanyahu said his goal is to “change the hostile and hypocritical approach of the European Union” on matters like Iran and the Palestinian question.

Netanyahu is meeting on Nov. 2, 2018, in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna with European leaders he views as more “friendly” in the Craiova Forum, which includes the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania, as well as the president of Serbia.

“This is not just a meeting of friends,” Netanyahu said. “It is also a bloc of countries with whom I want to promote my policy, to change the hypocritical and hostile attitude of the EU.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marine who witnessed Iwo Jima flag-raising dies before battle’s 76th anniversary

A Marine who was present for the Battle of Iwo Jima’s history-making flag-raising has died days before the battle’s 76th anniversary.

Elwood “Woody” Hughes died Feb. 2 at age 95, the Daily Herald newspaper reported. Hughes, of Illinois, landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 22, 1945, the day before the flag-raising. He was a private first class at the time, who had joined the Corps in 1943 and had served under legendary Marine Corps Gen. H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, known as the father of U.S. amphibious warfare.

In a 2020 interview with American Veterans Center, Hughes described being part of the 5th Amphibious Corps Signal Battalion attached to the 5th Marine Division. He worked with the famous Navajo Code Talkers, once delivering an urgent message for relay. He described his role on the island as that of a runner or “gofer,” downplaying the danger of his work. But he admitted he could hear the close “rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire” from the command center.

“We were very close to mortar fire … we would get a siren … they would tell you to take cover,” he said.Advertisement

Hughes, who was an active member of his Marine Corps League detachment in Arlington Heights, Illinois, called the Battle of Iwo Jima the “most historic event in the history of the United States,” but said he spoke about it in tribute to those who gave their all in the battle.

Hughes, one of his state’s last survivors of the battle, made a decision in 2019 to speak publicly about his story, adding his name to a flag touring the country with the names of the other Iwo Jima survivors on it.

“They kind of treat people like me as a celebrity and a hero, and I feel I’m not. I shouldn’t be, because the heroes never walked off of Iwo Jima,” he said in the 2020 interview. “I feel I’m doing it more for the honor of those who sacrificed their lives on Iwo Jima.”

The Battle of Iwo Jima stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945, and involved some 70,000 U.S. Marines. It was a consequential, but costly, U.S. victory; with nearly 7,000 Marine casualties, it was the bloodiest battle of the Corps’ history.

The Marines’ raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi became a symbol of the Corps’ indomitable spirit.

Then-Navy Secretary James Forrestal reportedly said, “The flag-raising on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”

Hughes was also known in his community as a longtime high school basketball coach and physical education teacher, according to news reports and his obituary.

“Due to his vivacious character and his unique outgoing style, Woody was instantly likable to all who met him. He was often remembered for his smile, a story, and a gleam in his eye,” his obituary reads. ” … Woody will be greatly missed by all those who know him.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

These 5 ways to tell if your boss sucks apply to military leadership, too

We tend to see leadership as a glamorous and desirable career destination, but the crude reality is that most leaders have pretty dismal effects on their teams and organizations. Consider that 70% of employees are not engaged at work, but it’s their boss’ main task to engage and inspire them, helping them leave aside their selfish interests to work as a collective unit with others. Instead, managers are the number one reason why people quit jobs. As the old saying goes, people join companies but quit their bosses.

As I highlight in my latest book, passive job-seeking, self-employment, and entrepreneurship rates have been on the rise even in places where macroeconomic conditions are strong and there is no shortage of career opportunities for people. For instance, in the US, there are now 6 million job seekers for 7 million job openings, but people appear to be disenchanted with the idea of traditional employment, mostly because it may require putting up with a bad boss.


To be sure, there are many competent leaders out there, but academic estimates suggest that the baseline for incompetent leadership is at least 65% (note this figure is based on analyzing mostly public or large companies), and, even more shockingly, there appears to be a strong negative correlation between the money we spend or waste on leadership-development interventions and the confidence people have in their leaders.

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling.

(Flickr photo by Bret Simmons)

An obvious question this sad state of affairs evokes is how one can work if his or her boss is incompetent. Clearly, it is always tempting to blame our manager for our unfavorable work experiences, but it may also be the case that the problem is us rather than them, with recent research indicating that all aspects of job satisfaction are influenced as much by employees’ own personalities and values as by the actual (objective) working circumstances they are in.

The way we experience our boss is no exception. Here’s a quick five-point checklist to work out what your manager’s probable level of competence might be.

1. He or she is generally liked, or at least well-regarded, by his or her direct reports

This would be consistent with the mainstream scientific view that upward feedback (feedback from those who work for the manager) is the best single measure of a manager’s performance. Conversely, how managers are seen by their own managers is mostly a measure of politics, likability, or managing “up.” If the answer is no, the probability that your boss is incompetent increases dramatically.

2. His or her team tends to achieve strong results compared with similar/competing teams (internally and externally)

Note this may happen even if the answer to question one is no, though generally speaking, both points are positively intertwined: People perform better when they like their bosses, and they like their bosses more when they perform better. Thus, if the answer is no, then your boss is probably not that competent.

3. He or she frequently provides you with constructive and critical developmental feedback to improve your performance

And does he or she do it for others in your team, too? If the answer is no, then chances are your boss is less than competent, as one of the fundamental tasks of any manager is to improve their team members’ performance by providing accurate and helpful feedback on their potential and performance.

How airmen prepare for the Army’s legendary Ranger School

A Ranger Assessment Course instructor (right), informs the class leader that he needs to improve his leadership skills at the Nevada Test and Training Range.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler)

4. He or she knows you well and has an accurate picture of your potential, including your strengths and weaknesses

No bosses can do their jobs well unless they are fully aware of what their team members can and can’t do, which is a necessary precondition to assigning each employee to tasks and roles in which their skills and personality are best deployed. After all, talent is by and large personality in the right place. If you think your boss doesn’t know you, then he or she is less likely to be competent.

5. He or she seems truly coachable and continues to improve to the point of getting better on the job all the time

Just like your employability depends on your own ability (and willingness) to continue to develop key career skills and learn things that broaden your career potential, your boss should also be finding ways to get better. This means not just displaying the necessary humility and curiosity to learn — including from his or her own employees and customers — but also finding ways to keep their dark side or undesirable tendencies in check. In short, does your boss show self-awareness and the drive to get better, irrespective of whether that actually advances his or her own career? If the answer is no, then your boss has limited potential.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics. He is the chief talent scientist at Manpower Group, cofounder of Deeper Signals and Metaprofiling, and professor of business psychology at both University College London and Columbia University. He has previously held academic positions at New York University and the London School of Economics and lectured at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, London Business School, Johns Hopkins, IMD, and INSEAD. He was also the CEO at Hogan Assessment Systems. Tomas has published nine books and over 130 scientific papers (h index 58), making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation.

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

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