North Korea’s awful record of human rights violations may place it as the worst regime in the world in how it treats its people, but first-hand tales of the abuses rarely slip the secretive country’s borders.
In the video, women defectors who formerly served in North Korea’s military sit down with a South Korean host in a military-themed restaurant famous for its chicken. The cultural divide between the two Korean women becomes palpable when the North Korean points to mock ammunition decorating the restaurant, and the South Korean says she recognizes them from comics.
“Aww, you’re so adorable,” the North Korean replied.
(Digitalsoju TV | YouTube)The defector explained that all North Korean women must serve in the military for six years, and all men must serve for 11. During that time, she said she was fed three spoonfuls of rice at mealtimes.
Unsurprisingly, malnutrition is widespread across all sectors of North Korea. And despite North Korea being a communist country, the defector still said that even within the military, people badly want money and withhold or steal each other’s state-issued goods, like military uniforms.
The defector said that in North Korea, women are taught that they’re not as smart, important, or as strong as men.
A second defector said that the officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often leverage their position to coerce sex from female soldiers. “Higher-ranked officers sleeping around is quite common,” said the second woman.
But the first defector had a much more personal story.
“I was in the early stages of malnutrition… I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2,” said the defector. Her Body Mass Index, though not a perfect indicator of health, works out to about 15, where a healthy body is considered to have a BMI of about 19-25.
“The major general was this man who was around 45 years old and I was only 18 years old at the time,” she said. “But he tried to force himself on me.”
“So one day he tells everyone else to leave except for me. Then he abruptly tells me to take off all my clothes,” she said. The officer told her he was inspecting her for malnutrition, possibly to send her off to a hospital where undernourished soldiers are treated.
“So since I didn’t have much of a choice, I thought, well, it’s the Major General. Surely there’s a good reason for this. I never could have imagined he’d try something,” she said. But the Major General asks her to remove her underwear and “then out of nowhere, he comes at me,” she said.
The Major General then proceeded to beat her while she loudly screamed, so he covered her mouth. She said he hit her so hard in the left ear, that blood came out of her right ear. She said the beating was so severe her teeth were loose afterwards.
“How do you think this is going to make me look?” the Major General asked her after the beating. He then instructs her to get dressed and tell no one what happened or he would “make [her] life a living hell.”
“There wasn’t really anyone I could tell or report this too,” she said. “Many other women have gone through something similar.
“I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but if Korea ever gets reunified, I’m going to find him and even if I can’t make him feel ten times the pain I felt, I want to at least smack him on the right side of his face the same way he did to me,” she said.
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.
A National Guard soldier who was home for the holidays died while saving people from the massive apartment fire in the Bronx borough in New York City on Dec. 28, according to several newsreports.
Emmanuel Mensah, a 28-year-old who immigrated from Ghana five years ago, returned to his apartment for the first time after joining the Army a year ago, according to The New York Times. He was among the 12 people killed in the blaze that consumed an apartment building near the corner of East 187th Street and Prospect Avenue.
Mensah lived with friends of his father — a married couple and their four children. He got that family out of the burning building safely before pulling four more people from the fire, said Twum Bredu, his uncle who lived next door. Witnesses cited in the Times’ report say Mensah disappeared after going back into the building to look for more victims.
NewYork Army National Guard Pvt 1st Class Emmanuel Mensah who died during a fire in an apartment buiilding in the Bronx, New York City on Dec. 28, 2017. (Photo courtesy New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion )
“He brought four people out,” Bredu told The Times. “When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.”
Mensah is believed to have died of smoke inhalation, authorities said.
Mensah had just begun his military career, based on photos which indicate he held the rank of a private first class.
“I thought maybe he was coming back,” said his father, Kwabena Mensah, according to CBS News. “Unfortunately, it turns out the other way.”
Kwabena, who reportedly searched for his son at nearby hospitals, said he was not surprised by his son’s final act.
“That’s what I think, because it was in his nature,” Kwabena said. “He wanted to help people out.”
Four children were among the 12 people who died in the fire, which is suspected to have occurred a few minutes before 7 p.m., after a 3-year-old boy played with burners on a stove inside an apartment on the first floor, New York Fire Department’s commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said during a news conference.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — As Republican delegates and party officials wrangle through their strategy to capture the White House inside the Quicken Loans arena here, protesters outside the party’s national convention have plenty to say about presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Among them is a group of military veterans who call themselves “Vets Versus Hate.”
“Vets Versus Hate is a national, non-partisan, grassroots movement of veterans standing up against the rhetoric of bigotry and division that has started to really come to the fore during this election season,” Marine Corps vet Alexander McCoy explained. “We’re not here to oppose any political party; we’re here to say that the kind of language Donald Trump is using is absolutely inconsistent with our values that we swore to uphold when we joined the military.”
McCoy, who served as a guard at the American embassies in Saudi Arabia, Honduras and Germany among other duty stations while in the Marine Corps between 2008 and 2013, explained that the group came to Cleveland to show solidarity “with everyone who lives in America . . . calling upon members of [Trump’s] party that have engaged in similar rhetoric to stop this politics of division.”
But in the same breath McCoy conceded that “they don’t seem to be listening, but we’re going to continue to make our voices heard.”
While McCoy is certainly not the only vet protesting what he sees as the Trump campaign’s divisive style, Republicans here have plenty of support from veterans groups and high-profile former military members who took the stage on the convention’s opening day to underscore the real estate mogul’s support for the military.
“The destructive pattern of putting the interests of other nations ahead of our own will end when Donald Trump is president,” said former military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. “From this day forward, we must stand tougher and stronger together, with an unrelenting goal to not draw red lines and then retreat and to never be satisfied with reckless rhetoric from an Obama clone like Hillary Clinton.”
But on the streets among the protesters it’s a different story.
Army vet Chris Abshire, an Ohio native who deployed to Afghanistan during his 4 years as a soldier, joined Vets Versus Hate to make the public aware that other people are affected by war, not just soldiers.
“The Afghan people that I interacted with on a daily basis are forgotten about, and politicians who spew hatred toward them and say, ‘We’re going to bomb ISIS back into the Stone Age and steal their oil’ forget that that’s not even their oil,” Abshire said just before joining a circle of protesters forming a human wall in the center of Public Square here, several blocks away from Quicken Loans Arena where the RNC is being held. “That belongs to the Iraqi people, who have been victimized for years now. And I want to stand up against that.”
“Ultimately what we need to make clear to American voters is that [veterans] will not allow themselves to be used . . . as political props,” McCoy said.
Earlier Trump advisor on veteran’s issues New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro reportedly told a radio host he thought Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
“There’s no place in politics for talk about putting your opponents in front of a firing squad,” said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, an organization dedicated to veteran civic empowerment. “It goes against the ethos of every person who raised their right hand and swore to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. We’re calling on the campaign to condemn it immediately.”
Some analysts have said the Trump campaign’s tone during the primary season combined with the national mood in the wake of terror attacks across the globe, as well as the tension between law enforcement and the African-American community here at home, have prompted concerns from RNC officials and Cleveland’s leaders that there might be significant unrest during the 4-day convention.
But nearly three-quarters of the way through the event, there have been no major incidents. Protests have been mostly confined to Public Square, and the potential for them to spread beyond that is severely limited by the force protection measures the city put in place ahead of the event — including a temporary perimeter fence erected around the Quicken Loans complex that now separates the zone from the rest of the city — and a massive influx of law enforcement from other states, including police and state troopers from as far away as Florida and California.
Looks like troops will stop doing drills in South Korea and actually be pulled out of there. Great. Now every unit is going to get some Joe who was just stationed there that’ll constantly complain about how “South Korea was so much better” than their new unit — despite constantly talking sh*t while there.
It’s always the same lower-enlisted troop. You know the type. They’ll show up just barely in time for First Sergeant to call “fall in,” they’ll be hungover and smell like cigarettes at every formation, and it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll defend their sh*tty actions with a limp, “well, in my last unit…”
Have fun with that, NCOs. No one will blame you for tree-line counseling those fools.
(Meme via Amuse)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
Mindless detail where you can joke with your buddies or being stuck in a training meeting, listening to how the good idea fairy will reshape the unit?
NCOs’ eyes are like the dinosaurs’. They can’t see you unless you move.
I learned it from Jurassic Park, so it has to be true.
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via ASMDDS)
(Meme via Gunner Boy)
(Meme via Military Memes)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
There’s a massive difference between being a “five-jump chump” and having your mustard stain.
Which basically cuts out every staff officer who wanted to impress the commander.
From their outpost on Iraq’s westernmost edge, U.S. 1st Lt. Kyle Hagerty and his troops watched civilians trickle into the area after American and Iraqi forces drove out the Islamic State group. They were, he believed, families returning to liberated homes, a hopeful sign of increasing stability.
But when he interviewed them on a recent reconnaissance patrol, he discovered he was wrong. They were families looking for shelter after being driven from their homes in a nearby town. Those who pushed them out were forces from among their “liberators” — Shiite militiamen who seized control of the area after defeating the IS militants.
It was a bitter sign of the mixed legacy from the United States’ intervention in Iraq to help defeat the militants. American-backed military firepower brought down the IS “caliphate,” but many of the divisions and problems that helped fuel the extremists’ rise remain unresolved.
The U.S.-led coalition, which launched its fight against IS in August 2014, is now reducing the numbers of American troops in Iraq, after Baghdad declared victory over the extremists. Both Iraqi and U.S. officials say the exact size of the drawdown has not yet been decided.
U.S. and Iraqi commanders here in western Iraq warn that victories over IS could be undercut easily by a large-scale withdrawal. Iraq’s regular military remains dependent on U.S. support. Many within Iraq’s minority communities view the U.S. presence as a buffer against the Shiite-dominated central government. Still, Iranian-backed militias with strong voices in Baghdad are pushing for a complete U.S. withdrawal, and some Iraqis liken any American presence to a form of occupation.
That has left an uncomfortable limbo in this area that was the last battlefield against the extremists. Coalition commanders still work with Iraqi forces to develop long-term plans for stability even as a drawdown goes ahead with no one certain of its eventual extent.
Hearts and minds — again
“Let’s go win us some hearts and minds,” Sgt. Jonathan Cary, 23, joked as he and Hagerty and the patrol convoy set off from a base outside the town of Qaim, evoking a phrase used in American policy goals for Iraq ever since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
U.S. Army military police provide crowd control while Iraqi citizens line up for food and water being distributed to citizens in need in April 2003. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson.)
After just a few hours moving on foot across farmland and orchards to a cluster of modest houses, Hagerty realized the families he thought were returnees to the area were in fact newly displaced. Their homes in Qaim had been confiscated by the government-affiliated Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, made up mainly of Shiite paramilitary fighters backed by Iran.
“Our end goal is a stable Iraq, right?” Hagerty said later, back at the base. “But when you see stuff like that, it makes you wonder if they are ever going to be able to do it themselves.”
After victories against IS, the PMF has built up a presence in many parts of Sunni-majority provinces, including western Anbar. It formally falls under the command of the prime minister, but some Iraqi commanders accuse the PMF of being a rival to government power.
PMF flags line highways crisscrossing Anbar. At a PMF checkpoint outside al-Asad airbase — a sprawling complex used by both Iraqi and coalition forces — U.S. convoys are regularly stopped for hours while busloads of PMF fighters are waved through.
U.S. Marine Col. Seth Folsom works closely with the branches of Iraq’s security forces — Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi army — who are increasingly concerned about the rise in power of the PMF. Iran has given no indication of dialing back its support after the defeat of IS extremists.
“The biggest question I get now is, ‘how long can we count on you being here?'” Folsom said of his conversations with Iraqi commanders and local politicians.
That decision ultimately rests with Iraq’s political leadership, he said.
“I guess some people could see that as a cop-out, but at the same time it’s not my place as a lowly colonel to define how long the U.S. presence is going to be.”
‘Forward line of freedom’
For the senior officers leading the current fight against IS, decades of U.S. military intervention in Iraq has defined their careers.
The top U.S. general in Iraq — Lt. Gen. Paul Funk — served in Iraq four times: in the Gulf war in 1991; in the 2003 invasion; in the surge when some 170,000 American troops were serving in Iraq in 2007; and most recently in the fight against IS.
“It will definitely be positive,” Funk said of the legacy of the U.S. role against IS in Iraq. “People see their young men and women out here defeating evil. That’s a positive thing.”
On a recent flight from Baghdad to a small U.S. outpost in northern Syria near Manbij — a trip that traversed the heart of the battlefield with IS for the past 3½ years — Funk described the future of the fight as ideological and open-ended.
“The problem is people believe it’s already over, and it’s not,” he said. “Beating the ideology, destroying the myth, that’s going to take time.”
Touching down outside an orchard on the perimeter of the Manbij base, Funk exclaimed: “Welcome to the front line of freedom!”
Funk predicts the ideological fight could take years and easily require U.S. troop deployments elsewhere. He said that is one reason he believes it’s so important to visit U.S. troops on the current front lines — to show them “the American people believe in their purpose.”
“We have got to recruit the next generation,” he said.
Many of the young U.S. troops interviewed by The Associated Press said they didn’t know anything about the Islamic State group when they enlisted.
Rayden Simeona, a 21-year-old corporal in the Marines, enlisted in 2014, when all he knew about the U.S. military was from movies and video games.
“I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere with my life, I had no idea what IS was. I just knew I wanted to go to war,” he said. Once deployed, he said talk rarely broached the big questions of “What we are doing here?” or “Why?”
“But I do wonder all the time: Why are we spending all this money in Iraq?” he said. “There’s probably some greater plan or reason that someone much higher up than me knows.”
Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Along Iraq’s border with Syria, the two Iraqi forces charged with holding a key stretch of territory lack direct communication. Because one force falls under the Defense Ministry and the other under the Interior Ministry, their radios are incompatible.
Instead, the troops use Nokia cellphones in a part of the country where network coverage is spotty to nonexistent.
At the nearby coalition outpost near Qaim, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brandon Payne spends much of his time filling communications gaps by relaying messages between different branches of Iraq’s military.
“The coordination is not where we hoped it would be,” Payne said. “But they do talk to each other, and we see that as a sign of progress.”
Tactical shortcomings within Iraq’s military are partially what fueled the expansion of the coalition’s footprint in Iraq in the past three years. As Iraqi ground forces demonstrated an inability to communicate and coordinate attacks across multiple fronts, U.S. forces moved closer to the fighting and sped up the pace of territorial gains.
Despite the caliphate’s collapse, those weaknesses have persisted. Iraqi forces remain dependent on coalition intelligence, reconnaissance, artillery fire, and airstrikes to hold territory and fight IS insurgent cells.
Payne regularly shuttles between his base, Qaim and the Syrian border, meeting with different members of Iraqi forces to coordinate security and repel IS attacks from the Syrian side.
“I would say we are still needed,” Payne said. “We are getting great results with this model, but you see how much goes into it.”
The base, once a small, dusty outpost, now houses a few hundred coalition troops and is a maze of barracks, gyms, a dining facility, laundry services and a chapel.
“At some point, someone much higher up than me is going to decide the juice is just not worth the squeeze,” Payne said, referring to the cost of such a large outpost in a remote corner of the country.
Iraqi army Lt. Col. Akram Salah Hadi, who works closely with Payne’s soldiers at the Qaim outpost, said coalition training and intelligence sharing have improved the performance of his unit. But overall, the U.S. effort in Iraq gives him little hope for the future.
Corruption in the military, Hadi said, remains as bad as it was in 2014, when it was seen as a major reason why entire Iraqi divisions simply dissolved in the assault on Mosul by a few hundred IS fighters.
Young Iraqi soldiers with ambition and talent can’t rise through the ranks without political connections. Top ranks are bloated with officers who have bought their promotions. Within his division alone, Hadi said he can think of 40 officers with no military background who attained their rank because of their membership in a political party.
“With leadership like this, the rest will always be rotten,” he said.
Coalition programs that have trained tens of thousands of Iraqi troops have largely focused on the infantry, not the junior officers needed to lead units and instill a culture of service that will make a professional force.
Folsom, the U.S. Marine colonel, said military power will not root out corruption or heal Iraq’s longstanding divisions.
“I have a saying out here,” he added, “‘You can’t want it more than them.'”
The US military is sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East as a show of force to Iran. There is a ton of firepower heading that way.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which consists of the carrier and its powerful carrier air wing, as well as one cruiser and four destroyers, is moving into the region with an unspecified number of B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers, according to US Central Command.
These assets, according to US Central Command, are being deployed in response to “clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces in the region.” This is in addition to strategic assets already in the area.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch)
Aircraft carrier: USS Abraham Lincoln
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, previously described aircraft carriers as “tremendous expression of US national power.” A carrier strike group is an even stronger message. “CSGs are visible and powerful symbols of U.S. commitment and resolve,” US European Command said in a statement on May 7, 2019.
The USS Abraham Lincoln, a mobile sea-based airfield, is the lead ship for the carrier strike group that bears its name and is outfitted with a highly capable carrier air wing.
Carrier air wing: fighters, electronic-attack aircraft, early-warning aircraft, and rotary aircraft
Carrier Air Wing Seven consists of F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft, E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, and a number of rotary aircraft from multiple squadrons capable of carrying out a variety of operational tasks.
The USS Leyte Gulf.
(US Navy photo)
Cruiser: USS Leyte Gulf
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers are multi-role warships that run heavily armed with 122 vertical-launch-system (VLS) cells capable of carrying everything from Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles to surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine-warfare rockets.
The USS Mason.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anna Wade)
4 destroyers: USS Bainbridge, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason, and USS Nitze
Like the larger cruisers, destroyers are also multi-mission vessels. Armed with 90 to 96 VLS cells, these ships have air-and-missile defense capabilities, as well as land-attack abilities.
Early in the Trump presidency, two US Navy destroyers devastated Shayrat Airbase with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to punish the Syrian regime in the aftermath of a chemical-weapons attack.
The B-52 with all its ammunition.
(US Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Robert Horstman)
The B-52 is a subsonic high-altitude bomber capable of carrying nuclear and conventional payloads. These hard-hitting aircraft can carry up to 70,000 pounds of varied ordnance and can be deployed to carry out various missions, including strategic attack, close air support, air interdiction, and offensive counter-air and maritime operations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.
That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.
160710-N-CS953-375 The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.
The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on threeoccasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)
Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad has made US operations in the country more complicated. Although both countries are purportedly fighting ISIS, their larger strategies are at cross-purposes in Syria, where the US advocates a political transition in which Assad eventually steps down.
Now, in the latest sign of growing tensions between the US and Russia in Syria, the US is sending planes equipped only with air-to-air weaponry to the region, David Axe reports for The Daily Beast. As Axe notes, Russia’s the only potential US adversary in Syria with its own combat aircraft.
The Pentagon announced last week that it would send up to a dozen F-15Cs to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey for operations over Syria. As The Daily Beast notes, the aircrafts’ exact role remains unclear.
F-15Cs are armed with only air-to-air weaponry, making the plane unnecessary in operations against ISIS, which doesn’t have a functioning air element. Instead, the jets could have one of two purposes in the region — they could either be used to help protect Turkey’s border against periodic incursions by Syrian jets and helicopters.
Or, under certain circumstances, the F-15Cs could be used to help counter Russian activity over Syria. A hypothetical no-fly zone over northern Syria near the Turkish border, for instance, would have to be maintained using planes that could enforce the zone against both Russian and Syrian aircraft.
“Such a zone could compel F-15s and other U.S. planes to directly confront Russian planes, even though — in theory— both air forces are attacking ISIS,” Axe writes. “Russia and the United States do make efforts to steer their jets away away from possible collisions, but otherwise do not collaborate in their separate air wars in Syria.”
The introduction of the F-15s highlights the danger of a potential confrontation between allied and Russian aircraft in the Middle East, regardless of whether such an escallation would be intentional or accidental.
In the beginning of October, an unnamed British military official told The Sunday Times that British jets had the go ahead to engage Russian aircraft over Iraq or Syria if fired upon or if they felt their life was endangered. However, the British government quickly denied the report.
Russian jets have also shadowed US MQ-1 Predator drones as they have conducted operations over ISIS territory, including above ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa and near the Syrian-Turkish border.
During operations, US and Russian jets have come within 20 miles of each other in the air. This was close enough that the planes could see each other in their targeting cameras. At such close ranges, the potential for accidents — or for a fateful misunderstanding — sharply increases.
The first female recruits at Recruit Training Command were issued their new enlisted white hats, or Dixie cups, as part of the Navy’s efforts for uniformity in service members’ uniform, April 4.
While the rest of the enlisted female E1-E6 Sailors have until Oct. 31 to begin wearing their Dixie cups, the recruits at the Navy’s only boot camp have already begun to do so as per NAVADMIN 236/15.
The Navy redesigned several uniform elements for Sailors that improve uniformity across the force as well as improve the function and fit of their uniforms. The changes will eventually make uniforms and covers more gender neutral.
“This feels incredible as we are making a part of history,” said Seaman Recruit Madeleine Bohnert, of St. Louis, Missouri, as she tried on her cover. “It’s really awesome how something as simple as our cover is so symbolic in regards to equality and the uniformity in the military. It’s a sense of pride knowing that we are a part of getting the first Dixie cups.”
During uniform issue, the female recruits lined up wearing their new covers as their Recruit Division Commanders ensured they were being properly worn.
As Engineman 2nd Class Shanice Floyd, RDC, helped adjust her recruits’ covers for proper fitting, she instructed those with longer hair in braids or buns how to make correct adjustments to accommodate the Dixie cup.
“We’re already part of a team and this just promotes it in a better way,” said Floyd. “Junior enlisted males and females already wear the same dress white uniform so this way when we get into the same dress blues uniform we’ll look more as a unit.”
The Alternative Combination Cover (ACC) and current male combination cover for officers and chief petty officers can now be worn by both men and women in service dress uniforms. All officers and chiefs will be required to wear the ACC Oct. 31.
“I am very excited to be one of the first females to be given the opportunity to wear the Dixie cup, and I believe we’ve come really far as a country and as a service,” said Seaman Recruit Maria Frazier, of Springfield, Ohio. “I think it’s really beneficial because as we work side by side, we have to work as a team. For me, it’s important that as we’re working together, we look uniform so we can work in uniform.”
The Dixie cup will match the recently redesigned Service Dress Blue uniforms in jumper style for both men and women, beginning Oct. 1.
The jumper will incorporate a side zipper and the slacks will have a front zipper to help with changing in and out of uniform. This will be the eventual end of the female version of the “crackerjack” uniform with a jacket and tie for female petty officers and junior Sailors.
“I feel that females have been performing to the standard equal to their male counterparts, and right now, with these new covers, we look more as a team,” said Floyd.