Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has become one of the most influential yet least visible decision-makers in the Trump administration, according to a Washington Post profile of the one-time Marine general’s time as the head of the Pentagon.
One area where Mattis and his aides have had outside influence was the debate over Trump’s Afghanistan policy. Mattis’ stabilizing influence came to fore in one contentious meeting about Afghanistan in the White House’s Situation Room.
During the meeting, Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist at the time, misrepresented McMaster’s position. The Post reported he called Bannon a “liar,” according to two officials who were present.
Mattis grabbed McMaster’s knee and advised the Army general to be quiet, the officials told The Post. The confrontation prompted a shocked Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, to turn to a colleague and mouth, “WTF.”
Bannon and Priebus have both been ousted from the White House. McMaster remains in his position, though rumors have repeatedly surfaced about discontented Trump loyalists seeking to force him out.
Mattis has been selective about when to push for or against specific policy moves — a strategy that has kept him in Trump’s good graces, numerous sources told The Post. The secretary’s low profile has also spared him from responding to, and becoming involved in, many of Trump’s more controversial statements.
The secretary remains highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike, and the guiding influence he seems to have exercised over senior White House officials appears to extend to Trump himself. Mattis has restrained the president’s push for muscular approaches to Iran and North Korea while tempering Trump’s desire to pull back in other places.
Trump has been criticized for giving the military broad leeway when it comes to battlefield decisions, particularly in anti-ISIS and counterinsurgent operations in the Middle East and Africa. Trump, however, has also questioned the wisdom of continued or deepened involvement in those places.
“You guys want me to send troops everywhere,” Trump reportedly said during a Situation Room meeting with his national security team regarding military action in Afghanistan and North Africa. “What’s the justification?”
Mattis told Trump that the U.S. presence in those places was needed “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”
That response drew ire from Trump, who said it could be used to justify action anywhere in the world.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed Trump, questioning whether victory was even possible in Somalia or Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, sir, you have no choice,” Mattis replied, officials told The Post. “You will be a wartime president.”
Trump ultimately decided to expand U.S. involvement in the nearly 17-year-old war, sending 3,900 more troops and intensifying the bombing campaign.
“My original instinct was to pull out,” Trump said when announcing the new policy in August. “But all of my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”
I was lucky enough to fly a JET-O (Jet Orientation) flight as a cadet in a T-37, and while my pilot was generous enough to take me on some thrilling barrel rolls (I did *not* throw up, thank you very much), that sortie was nothing compared to this aerial demonstration.
Anyone with VR sets can take this video to awesome heights, but even without, it’s pretty breathtaking.
Blue Angels fly fighter aircraft that are maintained to near combat-ready status — except for the paint scheme and the removal of weapons. More specific modifications include the use of a specific smoke-oil for demonstrations and a more precise control stick.
“Precise” is the operative word here. Check out the video below to see for yourself — butt clenching begins around 2:10. You can drag your mouse or move your phone to look around.
The world is “one tiny tantrum away” from a nuclear crisis, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said Dec. 10 as it accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We have a choice: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us,” the group’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said, according to a BBC report.
ICAN, a network of more than 400 global nongovernmental organizations, won the prize for its efforts in highlighting the dangers of nuclear weapons as well as working on a treaty to ban them.
The possibility of nuclear retaliation has been thrust into the global spotlight in recent months as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continue to flare. North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch in late November demonstrated the country’s expanding missile capabilities, putting the international community on edge.
At the same time, many foreign-policy observers have criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for mocking and lashing out at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Twitter.
Speaking at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Fihn said the threat of nuclear weapons being used was “greater today than in the Cold War” and warned that a country’s “moment of panic” could lead to the “destruction of cities and the deaths of millions of civilians.”
The Nobel committee’s chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, commended ICAN’s work toward eliminating nuclear weapons, warning that “irresponsible leaders can come to power in any nuclear state.”
The group’s win was announced in October, to international applaud.
Following the statement, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN under secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said in a UN broadcast that ICAN’s win came at a time when everyone “realizes the danger that we are all living in terms of nuclear peril.”
Referring to current relations between the international community and North Korea, Nakamitsu said, “moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons is really today an urgent priority.”
Last week, the White House national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the chances for war on the peninsula were growing, CNN reported.
“I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem,” McMaster said in a conference in California, when asked whether North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch had increased the chance of war.
The Trump administration has decided not to send the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman into retirement two decades early, Vice President Mike Pence announced from the carrier’s decks April 30, 2019.
“We are keeping the best carrier in the world in the fight. We are not retiring the Truman,” Pence said, The Virginia-Pilot reported. “The USS Harry S. Truman is going to be giving ’em hell for many more years to come,” the vice president added.
President Trump asked Pence to deliver the message, he revealed.
The Navy announced in its FY 2020 budget proposal that it had decided to mothball the Truman rather than go through with its planned mid-life refueling. The move was intended to free up funds for the purchase of new systems to give the US Navy an edge against rivals China and Russia, technologies such as artificial intelligence, unmanned systems, and directed-energy weapons, among other things.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Sailors during an all-hands call in the hangar bay aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
“Great power competition has reemerged as the central challenge to US security and prosperity, demanding prioritization and hard strategic choices,” the US Navy had explained.
US military leaders, including Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, have defended the move before skeptical lawmakers in recent weeks. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson spoke in favor of the Navy’s decision April 29, 2019.
“The most mortal sin we can have right now is to stay stable or stagnant,” he said at a security forum in Washington, DC. “We’re trying to move, and that is exactly the decision dynamic with respect to what’s more relevant for the future. Is it going to be the Harry S. Truman and its air wing where there’s a lot of innovation taking place, or is it something else?”
But the Trump administration took a different view after overruled its military leaders.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Early discussions about increasing production of Tomahawk-armed Virginia-Class submarines are underway as the Navy and lawmakers look for ways to more quickly deliver new high-tech attack submarines to the force, Congressional sources told Scout Warrior.
The discussions, involving lawmakers and senior members of the Navy, are still very preliminary and in the early stages. The possibility being considered includes the prospect of building more Virginia-Class submarines per year – instead of the amount called for by the current ship-building plan.
The current status-quo effort to build two Virginia-Class boat per year, however, will drop to one as construction of the Ohio Replacement Program, or ORP, begins in the early 2020s.
The possibility now being deliberated is whether, at this future point in time, the Navy and industry could produce two Virginia-Class boats and one Ohio Replacement submarine per year, increasing the current plan by one Virginia-Class boat per year.
Increasing production hinges on whether the submarine-building industry has the capacity to move up to three submarines per year, the Congressional source said.
Current budget constraints and industrial base capacity limitations may make building three submarines per year too difficult to accomplish, even if the desire to do so was there from both Congressional and Navy leaders.
While Navy officials, including Navy Acquisition Executive Sean Stackley, did tell lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee Sea Power and Projection Force Subcommittee, production changes could emerge in the future, depending upon funding and industrial base capabilities.
Stackley explained that the service would like to maintain a two per-year production schedule for Virginia-Class attack submarines, even after production of the ORP begins.
“We are working today, and we hope and expect you to work with us, to determine how can we keep two Virginias a year proceeding within all the fiscal constraints and within the limitations of the industrial base, to address this compelling requirement for the nation,” Stackley told lawmakers.
The Virginia-Class Submarines are built by a cooperative arrangement between the Navy and Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics and Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
Each industry partner constructs portions or “modules” of the submarines which are then melded together to make a complete vessel, industry and Navy officials explained.
In the past, various sub-building industry executives have indicated that this might be possible, however such a prospect has not yet been formally confirmed as it would likely involve an increase in resources, funds and man-power.
One industry source told Scout Warrior that the submarine building community would support whatever the Navy and Congress call for.
“We’ll support Navy programs,” the source said.
Navy Leaders Want More Attack Submarines
The prospect of an acceleration comes as Navy commanders tell Congress they would like to see the fast arrival of more Virginia-Class attack submarines added to the Pacific Fleet.
Pacific Commander Harry Harris told Congress that he would like to see more submarines in his area of operations.
“The Pacific is the principle space where submarines are the most important warfighting capability we have. As far as Virginia-Class submarines, it is the best thing we have,” Harris told lawmakers. “As I mentioned before, we have a shortage in submarines. My submarine requirement is not met in PACOM (Pacific Command).”
Virginia-Class attack submarines are necessary for the U.S. to maintain its technological superiority over rivals or potential adversaries such as Chinas, Harris added.
With their technological edge and next-generation sonar, the platform can successfully perform crucially important intelligence and surveillance mission in high-risk areas inaccessible to surface ships. For this reason, Virginia-Class attack submarines are considered indispensable to the ongoing Pentagon effort to overcome what’s talked about in terms of Anti-Access/Area-Denial wherein potential adversaries use high-tech weaponry and sensors to prevent U.S. forces from operating in certain strategically vital areas.
Virginia-Class Attack Submarine Technology
Virginia-Class subs are fast-attack submarines armed with Tomahawk missiles, torpedoes and other weapons able to perform a range of missions; these include anti-submarine warfare, strike warfare, covert mine warfare, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), anti-surface/ship warfare and naval special warfare, something described as having the ability to carry and insert Special Operations Forces, Navy program managers have said.
Compared to prior Navy attack subs like the Los Angeles-Class, the Virginia-Class submarines are engineered to bring vastly improved littoral warfare, surveillance and open ocean capabilities, service officials said.
For instance, the ships can be driven primarily through software code and electronics, thus freeing up time and energy for an operator who does not need to manually control each small maneuver.
“What enables this is the ship control system that we use. You can drive the ship electronically. This allows you the flexibility to be in littorals or periscope depth for extended periods of time and remain undetected,” former Virginia-Class attack submarine program manager Capt. David Goggins said several years ago.
The Virginia-Class submarine are engineered with this “Fly-by-Wire” capability which allows the ship to quietly linger in shallow waters without having to surface or have each small move controlled by a human operator, Goggins added.
“There’s a person at the helm giving the orders of depth and speed. There’s always a person in the loop. The software is telling the planes and the rudder how to move in order to maintain a course and depth. You still have a person giving the electronic signal,” he said.
Also, unlike their predecessor-subs, Virginia-Class subs are engineered with what’s called a “Lock Out Trunk” – a compartment in the sub which allows special operations forces to submerge beneath the water and deploy without requiring the ship to surface, service officials explained.
“SEALs and Special Operations Forces have the ability to go into a Lock Out Trunk and flood, equalize and deploy while submerged, undetected. That capability is not on previous submarine classes,” Goggins added.
The Block III Virginia-Class submarines also have what’s called a Large Aperture Bow conformal array sonar system – designed to send out an acoustic ping, analyze the return signal, and provide the location and possible contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats.
Unlike their “SSBN” Ohio-Class counterparts armed with nuclear weapons, the Virginia-Class “SSN” ships are purely for conventional attack, Navy officials said.
Thus far, more than ten Virginia-Class subs have been delivered to the Navy, and seven are currently under construction. Like other programs, the Virginia-Class submarines are broken up into procurement “Blocks.”
Blocks I and II totaling ten ships, have already been delivered.
The program has also delivered its first Block III Virginia-Class Submarine, the USS North Dakota.
The Block III subs, now under construction, are being built with new so-called Virginia Payload Tubes designed to lower costs and increase capability.
Instead of building what most existing Virginia-Class submarines have — 12 individual 21-inch in diameter vertical launch tubes able to fire Tomahawk missiles – the Block III submarines are being built with two larger 87-inch in diameter tubes able to house six Tomahawk missiles each.
“For each one of these tubes you have hydraulics and you have electronics. What we did for Block III is we went to two very large Virginia Payload Tubes – now you have two tubes versus twelve. It is much easier to build these two tubes,” Goggins said.
Although the new tubes were conceived and designed as part of what the Navy calls its “Design for Affordability” strategy to lower costs, the move also brings strategic advantages to the platform, service officials say.
“In the future, beyond Tomahawk — if you want to put some other weapon in here– you can,” Goggins said.
Also, for Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 97-foot long section designed to house additional missile capability. In fact, the Navy has already finished its Capabilities Development Document, or CDD, for what’s called the “Virginia Payload Modules.”
The Block V Virginia Payload Modules, or VPM, will add a new “module” or section of the submarine, increasing its Tomahawk missile firing capability from 12 to 40.
The idea is to have additional Tomahawk or other missile capability increased by 2026, when the “SSGN” Ohio-Class Guided Missile Submarines start retiring in larger numbers, he explained.
Navy engineers have been working on requirements and early designs for a new, 70-foot module for the Virginia-class submarines engineered to house an additional 28 Tomahawk missiles.
While designed primarily to hold Tomahawks, the VPM missile tubes are engineered such that they could accommodate a new payload, new missile or even a large unmanned underwater vehicle, Navy officials said.
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Goggins explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.”
“When the SSGNs retire in the 2020s – if no action is taken the Navy will lose about 60-percent of its undersea strike launchers. When we design and build VPM and start construction in 2019, that 60-percent shortfall will become a 40-percent shortfall in the 2028 timeframe. Over time as you build VPM you will eliminate the loss of firepower. The rationale for accelerating VPM is to potentially mitigate that 40-percent to a lower number,” Goggins explained.
Shipbuilders currently working on Block III boats at Newport News Shipyard, Va., say Block V will involve a substantial addition to the subs.
“Block V will take another cylindrical section and insert it in the middle of the submarine so it will actually lengthen the submarine a little and provide some additional payload capability,” said Ken Mahler, Vice President of Navy Programs, Huntington Ingalls Industries, said several years ago.
The first Block V submarine is slated to begin construction in fiscal year 2019, Navy officials said.
Early prototyping work on the Virginia Payload Modules is already underway and several senior Navy leaders, over the years, have indicated a desire to accelerate production and delivery of this technology – which will massively increase fire-power on the submarines.
Virginia-Class Acquisition Success
The official baseline for production of Virginia-Class submarines calls for construction of 30 boats, Navy spokeswoman Collen O’Rourke told Scout Warrior. However, over the years, many Navy officials have said this number could very well increase, given the pace of construction called for by the Navy’s official 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan.
The submarines are being built under a Dec. 22, 2008, the Navy awarded a contract for eight Virginia Class submarines. The third contract for the Virginia Class, or Block III, covering hulls numbered 784 through 791 — is a $14 billion Multi-Year Procurement, Navy officials said.
Multi-year deals are designed to decrease cost and production time by, in part, allowing industry to shore up supplies in advance and stabilize production activities over a number of years.
The first several Block IV Virginia-Class submarines are under construction as well — the USS Vermont and the USS Oregon. In April of last year, the Navy awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding a $17.6 billion deal to build 10 Block IV subs with the final boat procured in 2023.
Also, design changes to the ship, including a change in the materials used for the submarines’ propulsor, will enable Block IV boats to serve for as long as 96-months between depots visits or scheduled maintenance availabilities, service and industry officials have said.
As a result, the operations and maintenance costs of Block IV Virginia-Class submarines will be much lower and the ships will be able to complete an additional deployment throughout their service live. This will bring the number of operational deployments for Virginia-class submarines from 14 up to 15, Navy submarine programmers have explained.
Overall, the Virginia-Class Submarine effort has made substantive progress in reducing construction time, lowering costs, and delivering boats ahead of schedule, Goggins said.
At least six Virginia Class Submarines have been delivered ahead of schedule, Navy officials said.
The program’s current two-boats per year production schedule, for $4 billion dollars, can be traced back to a 2005 challenge issued by then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen. As mentioned, deliberations are already underway to consider stepping up this production schedule.
Mullen challenged the program to reduce production costs by 20-percent, saying that would allow the Navy to build two VCS-per year. This amounted to lowering the per-boat price of the submarines by as much as $400 million dollars each.
This was accomplished through a number of efforts, including an effort called “capital” investments wherein the Navy partnered with industry to invest in ship-building methods and technologies aimed at lowering production costs.
Other cost-reducing factors were multi-year contract awards, efforts to streamline production and work to reduce operations and sustainment, or OS costs, Navy officials explained.
The U.S. Navy is working to adjust the documentation paperwork regarding the size of its fleet of Virginia Class Submarines, changing the ultimate fleet size from 30 to about 51 ships, service officials have said.
An Afghan soldier has opened fire on American troops, wounding at least seven of them, before being shot dead in a military base in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second so-called “insider attack” in the past week.
Abdul Qahar Araam, spokesman for the US military, said on June 17th that the attack took place at Camp Shaheen in Mazar-i-Sharif. Araam added that the soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker.
General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, also confirmed the incident.
The Resolute Support, the international training mission to Afghanistan, announced on its Twitter feed that seven US service members were wounded, adding that there were no US fatalities.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, said NATO soldiers were training their Afghan counterparts at the base where the attack took place.
“A source told Al Jazeera that the attack happened at the end of a training exercise,” he said.
“We understand that the soldiers were getting back into their vehicle when a soldier from the Afghan national army picked up what is said to be a rocket-propelled grenade and fired it at the group of soldiers, and that is how these injuries have happened.”
Another insider attack
Three US soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded on June 11 when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the armed group, said at the time that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army “just to attack foreign forces.”
On June 17th, Mujahid praised the Camp Shaheen attack in a statement sent to the media, but did not claim Taliban responsibility.
In April, scores of Afghan soldiers were killed when fighters breached security at the camp, detonating explosives and shooting hundreds at a mosque and dining hall on the base. The attackers were disguised in Afghan army uniforms.
Now that women are eligible for any combat job in the U.S. military, the top brass thinks it might be time for them to register for the draft as well. The civilian government doesn’t entirely agree. Yet, a short time ago, Congressman (and combat veteran) Duncan Hunter added legislation to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require women to register for the draft.
The only problem is Hunter didn’t want it to happen. He only wanted to force a debate on the issue of women in combat. He never expected the idea of women registering for the draft to pass. The provision gained unexpected support and momentum in the House Armed Services Committee and passed. (Ironically, Hunter voted against his own amendment.)
Today, the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives removed Hunter’s provisions before the NDAA was introduced on the greater House floor, a move that caused Congressional Democrats to criticize Republicans for not bringing the bill to a potentially damaging public debate.
The idea of women registering is not entirely dead yet. In their version of the NDAA, the Senate Armed Services Committee also includes language that would force women to register for Selective Service. That provision is expected to be removed during closed-door meetings between the two houses of Congress as they prepare a compromise bill for President Obama to sign.
Melting Artic ice might begin to raise some alarm bells for military leadership as near-peer enemies literally start to come closer. With Besides national security, commercial, environmental and search-and-rescue concerns are also at play. As the sea ice melts, the more human activity becomes possible in the Arctic. This allows countries like Russia and China another point of access to the US, one that didn’t exist when the barrier of the ice and cold prevented exploitation of the area. Watch this incredible video by the Wall Street Journal to learn more.
We should probably come up with a game plan
As the Arctic ice continues to melt, sea passages are forming in international waters, leading to competition for resources (like fish and oil) and strategic military placement. The US military is now having to revise its Arctic strategy in and around Alaska as a result.
The Cold War was a time of increased activity in the Arctic, but that eventually died down. With the waterways opening and the region warming, the Russians are increasing their Arctic activity once again. Only now, they are practicing attack strategies on the US and Canada in ways that were not possible before. Right now, the increased Russian activity seems to be a strategy: to remind the US of their power. This is worrisome to the US. If there were a conflict between Russia and the US, the Arctic provides the closest possible route of attack. Yikes.
Alaskan Military Bases are on the Frontlines Once Again
Tin City, Alaska is the closest mainland point in the United States to Russia. With only about 55 miles between them, that is way too close for comfort. The Tin City Air Force Station is the northernmost US military base and a long-range radar site with strategic placement specifically to keep a watch out for Russian bombers. Installed during the Cold War era, it only returned as a frontline post because of the melting Arctic ice.
The radar looks for unidentified aircraft. In recent years, the US military at Tin City Air Force Station has spotted Russian fighter planes and bombers in the area at double the normal rate. It is likely a test by the Russians to see how quickly the US responds. Newsflash Russia: the US military always responds at lightning speeds. The US government expects any aircraft that crosses the US Air Defense Identification Zone to identity itself, though (surprise, surprise) Russian aircraft don’t always comply. This prompts US jets to fly alongside them until they leave. The radar is in effect 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without fail.
A Disappearing Ice Buffer of Safety
The Arctic used to be a kind of buffer of protection for the US from potential threats, but the melting Artic ice is changing that, forcing the US to develop a new, notably more aggressive Arctic strategy with many additional resources. For instance, Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, is getting more involved in protecting the US Arctic border zone. Their new, cutting-edge F-35 planes are on the job now. Has Russia noticed? You can bet on that. Only time will tell how this unfolds.
An 18-year-old woman died during Navy boot camp this month — about two months after another female recruit’s death, prompting a review of training and safety procedures.
Seaman Recruit Kelsey Nobles went into cardiac arrest April 23, 2019, after completing a fitness test at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois. She was transported to the nearby Lake Forest Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The cause of death remains under investigation, said Lt. Joseph Pfaff, a spokesman for Recruit Training Command. Navy Times first reported Nobles’ death April 25, 2019.
Recruits begin the 1.5-mile run portion of their initial physical fitness assessment at Recruit Training Command, April 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Susan Krawczyk)
“Recruit Training Command reviewed the training, safety, medical processes, and overall procedures regarding the implementation of the Physical Fitness Assessment and found no discrepancies in its execution,” Pfaff said. “However, there is a much more in-depth investigation going on and, if information is discovered during the course of the investigation revealing deficiencies in our processes and procedures that could improve safety in training, it would be acted on.”
Nobles, who was from Alabama, was in her sixth week of training.
Her father, Harold Nobles, told WKRG News Channel 5 in Alabama that he has questions for the Navy about his daughter’s death. For now, though, he said the family is focusing on getting her home and grieving first.
Both the Navy and Recruit Training Command take the welfare of recruits and sailors very seriously, Pfaff said.
“We are investigating the cause of this tragic loss,” he said. “… Our thoughts are with Seaman Recruit Nobles’ family and friends during this tragic time.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Imagine having to conceal your identity in order to feel safe and protect the ones you love. Changing the route you take to work, wearing disguises so you won’t be recognized, or reducing the amount of vacation you take because you know it’s safer to be at work than not.
For many of us, this way of life would seem farfetched or unrealistic, but for one Airman, this was his reality. Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, transportation Journeyman, used to be an Afghan national working as a head interpreter with U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan. As the head interpreter, Javad was relied upon for his expertise, which meant he was on all the important missions.
“I would go out on missions and it was like I was actually in the Army,” said Javad. “I would go weeks without a shower, I would carry 100-150 pound bags of ammo, sleep on the ground, walk all day, climb mountains, and jump out of helicopters.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo, Feb. 28, 2018. Javad was a linguist for U.S. forces while living in Afghanistan and fled to the United States in 2014. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
Despite the constant diligence to remain obscured, in 2013, the locals somehow figured out Javad was working with U.S. forces.
“Once they knew who I was, my family and I were no longer safe,” said Javad. “My life was threatened by the insurgents, my wife was accused of helping infidels and was threatened with kidnapping. I knew after that, I couldn’t work here anymore.”
Thus began a courageous and remarkable journey that led Javad to America and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Javad was born in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. His family fled to Iran because the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan made it too dangerous to stay.
“We left in 1989 when I was two during the Soviet-Afghan War because it was too dangerous for my family to stay,” said Javad “We came to Iran under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so we were discriminated against.”
There were not many educational opportunities for Javad growing up in Iran because of his refugee status. His parents decided to return to Afghanistan in 2004 since it was safer.
“We came back to Afghanistan so I could seek higher education because neither of my parents had that opportunity,” said Javad. “They wanted that option for me. I got my education, my bachelors and a double major in chemistry and biology.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo with his wife Sara, and three children Sana, Yusef, and Benyamin, March 6, 2018. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
After completing his education, Javad still found it difficult to find meaningful work.
“Afghanistan had a new government and it was corrupted,” said Javad. “It was difficult to get jobs unless you knew the right people.”
Javad had taken classes on computers, language, and received a certification in accounting. This helped him find a job where he could now provide for his family.
“After graduating college, I worked for an accounting firm,” said Javad. “After a year and a half, I was promoted to general manager.”
Unfortunately, after a horrific motorcycle accident kept him in the hospital for six months, Javad lost his job as a general manager with the accounting firm.
“I knew that without knowing anyone in the government, I was going to have to start from the bottom again,” said Javad. “The only other option I had was to become a linguist with U.S. forces.”
The day Javad applied for the linguist position, over 200 others were attempting the same.
“There’s a written and verbal skills test, interview, and security background check,” said Javad. “Only 10 of us made it through those stages. Once you get through that, there’s another few months of security screening with the Central Intelligence Agency and medical exams.”
Javad’s first assignment was with the USAF at FOB Shindand.
“I was assigned to the Base Defense Operations Center for the Air Force,” said Javad. “I was translating all the daily, weekly, and monthly security reports.”
While assigned there Javad met Senior Master Sgt. Michael Simon II, who was serving on a 365-day deployment as a Mi-17 crew chief air advisor.
“Javad was assigned to the FOB as an interpreter, translating from Dari or Pashto to English,” said Simon. “We worked together on several occasions in support of the Afghan Air Force training and advising missions.”
What Javad didn’t know at the time was that Simon would play an instrumental role years later as he transitioned from Afghanistan to America. During his time at FOB Shindand, the USAF was replaced by the Army, and his duties and responsibilities changed significantly.
“We were given the option to resign or accept new roles,” said Javad. “Sure enough, within a month, I was riding in convoys outside the wire. Things were a lot different now.”
Javad spent three years at FOB Shindand and witnessed some horrific things.
“I saw Army soldiers get shot and killed. I saw Afghan civilians get shot and killed,” said Javad. “I was the head interpreter and was always going out with Battalion commanders and other high-ranking officials.”
Despite the difficulties of his job and awful experiences he witnessed, Javad felt something for the first time.
“I was a local,” said Javad. “I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but they never treated me like a stranger. They trusted me, they worked with me. That was a feeling I’d never had in my life before until I worked there.”
After his identity was disclosed and Javad knew he was no longer safe in Afghanistan, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa so he could come to America. This wasn’t an easy decision because Javad was living as an upper middle-class citizen in Afghanistan.
“I was a homeowner with lots of land,” said Javad. “I owned a car and motorcycle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell anything because no one would buy anything built with the money from America. I was choosing between my belongings or my life.”
In the summer of 2014, Javad took his pregnant wife with only the belongings they could fit in a suitcase, the $800 they received for selling their wedding bands and traveled to the United States to begin a new life.
“When we arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we had nothing,” said Javad. “I needed a sponsor for my SIV and Simon agreed. With the help of Simon, we were able to sustain some sort of normalcy until we could get on our feet.”
Simon got donations from his church and the local refugee service in Colorado Springs. Lutheran Refugee Service lined up a starter apartment with basic furnishings.
“My sister had coordinated with a group of close friends and churches to get a lot of items needed outside of the basics already provided,” said Simon. “Then the rest was up to Javad and his determination to succeed.”
Despite having an education, Javad found it hard to find work.
“I had to find a job because I barely could afford a month’s rent,” said Javad. “Nobody would give me a job because I didn’t have a history of work in the U.S.”
After meeting a family who had a local business, Javad found some temporary work, but more importantly, a life-long friend.
“They ended up being like family to us,” said Javad. “They called me son and they were the only ones who came to my graduation at basic training.”
Working in a warehouse didn’t bring in a lot of money for Javad and he struggled to make ends meet.
“For the first four months, I didn’t have a car,” said Javad. “I had to walk four miles one way, work eight hours, and walk another four miles back, in the winter, in Colorado Springs.”
After a year in the U.S., Javad felt that serving in the armed forces may provide a better life for him and his family.
“I worked four years with the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and had a little sense of what life was like in the military,” said Javad. “I know there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make when serving your country, but in the end, I wanted to give back to the country that helped me a lot.”
Javad decided to enlist in the USAF and entered basic training in February 2016.
“I wanted to be part of a really big picture,” said Javad. “I did it mainly because the U.S. military saved my life and I wanted to do my part.”
The decision to join the USAF did not surprise Simon because his commitment, dedication and hard work align with the USAF core values.
For Javad, to start from scratch with just a suitcase and dedicate his efforts to providing for his family is the true American dream,” said Simon. “Now he’s a member of the 1 percent club who voluntarily choose to serve this great nation. To say I’m proud of Javad would be an understatement.”
A week before graduating basic training, Javad received an unexpected gift.
“I was notified that I was officially a U.S. citizen,” said Javad. “I was overwhelmed with pride. When I saw the flag being raised at graduation and we saluted, I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I finally had a flag I could be proud of.”
After basic training and technical school, Javad arrived at his first duty station here at Travis Air Force Base, California. He’s enjoyed the people, mission, and the area.
“My unit treats me like any other Airman,” said Javad. “They don’t see me as a person from Afghanistan, they see me as an Airman.”
Javad has yet to deploy since joining the USAF but said he would like to return to Afghanistan as an Airman and citizen of the U.S.
“I would be happy to deploy to Afghanistan because I know the mission over there is important,” said Javad. “I would love a special duty assignment as a linguist and use my language skills to help my fellow Airmen.”
Javad’s short-term goal is to help his parents get to the U.S.
“My parents had to escape Afghanistan and flee to another country,” said Javad. “I feel responsible because I come from a culture where your kids are your retirement, so now they are struggling until I can find a way to bring them to America.”
Once Javad secures his family in the U.S., he plans on achieving his long-term goal which is to become an officer in the USAF.
“I couldn’t become an officer when I enlisted even though I had the education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Javad. “Now that I have my citizenship, I will pursue officer training school and get my commission.”
The United States military’s code of conduct implores captured service members to continue to resist by any means possible. This often means reprisals from one’s captors. Therefore, surviving one stint in a POW camp can be excruciating.
To do it twice is unimaginable — except these three American servicemen did it.
1. Wendall A. Phillips
Phillips was assigned to the Air Transport Command as a radio operator on C-47 aircraft flying from bases in England.
While in Europe Phillips survived five separate crashes. During the last one, in late 1944, his aircraft was shot down. Though he walked away from the crash, he was unable to evade the Germans and was captured.
He and his fellow crewmembers were taken to a German POW camp in Belgium.
Phillips had no intention of sticking around though. After just 33 days Phillips and two other POW’s made a break for it.
Phillips simply snuck away while no guards were around. Finding a hole in the electric fence around the camp, Phillips and the other two men made good their escape and quickly found a place to hide.
Phillips travelled for three days before he linked up with the French Underground. The resistance fighters helped Phillips make it back to American lines.
After returning to American forces, Phillips was reassigned to the China-India-Burma Theater flying “the Hump” to bring supplies to forces fighting the Japanese.
Once again, Phillips’ airplane crashed and he was captured by the enemy.
According to an article in The Morning Call, Phillips endured torture at the hands of the Japanese — they even forcibly removed his fingernails trying to get information out of him.
Phillips would not escape this time but he would survive his ordeal as a POW; he was released with the Japanese surrender in 1945.
2. Felix J. McCool
When Gen. Wainwright conveyed the American surrender in the Philippines to President Roosevelt, he said, “there is a limit to human endurance, and that limit has long since been passed.” But Gen. Wainwright was certainly not speaking for one Marine sergeant, Felix J. McCool.
McCool was still recovering from wounds he had received earlier in resisting the Japanese when he, the 4th Marine Regiment, and the rest of the defenders of Corregidor were rounded up and shipped off to internment.
Just getting there was bad enough as the captives were crammed into cattle cars so tightly that when men passed out or died they could not even fall down.
But for McCool, being a Marine meant that he was not out of the fight. He did everything in his power to resist his Japanese captors.
While working as forced labor on an airfield McCool and his fellow prisoners created a tiger trap on the runway — they later watched as a Japanese airplane crashed and burned due to their handiwork.
McCool also managed to smuggle in medical supplies to help the sick and wounded.
He did this despite the constant threat of beatings and even summary execution. He carried on despite the horrendous conditions in the camp.
But there was worse to come.
McCool next endured a brutal voyage to Japan aboard a Japanese prisoner transport vessel, known as a “hell ship.” McCool survived the hellacious conditions only to be put to work in an underground coal mine. There he continued his resistance by sabotaging the work and keeping the faith with his fellow prisoners.
After thirteen months in the coal mine, McCool was freed by the ending of the war in the Pacific.
He returned to the United States and decided to stay in the Marine Corps. Then in 1950, now a Chief Warrant Officer, he found himself fighting the North Koreans.
McCool became part of the fateful Task Force Drysdale, an ad hoc, mixed-nationality unit that was attempting to fight its way toward the beleaguered Marines fighting at the Chosin Reservoir. When the task force was ambushed and separated along the roadway to Hagaru-ri, McCool was once again taken prisoner.
McCool and his fellow captives were marched far north through brutal cold with no rations. Once in their internment camp, the conditions hardly improved. Besides the brutal treatment, the men were also subjected to communist indoctrination and propaganda.
McCool’s resistance earned him the ire of his captors and they threw him in the Hole — a barely three foot square hole in the ground. But he endured.
McCool was repatriated with many other Americans during Operation Big Switch after the end of hostilities.
According to his award citations, McCool spent over six years as a prisoner of war between his two internments.
He later wrote a book about his experiences and the poetry that he wrote to keep himself going during those terrible times.
3. Richard Keirn
Richard Keirn was a young flight officer on a B-17 when he arrived in England in 1944. On Sept. 11, 1944, he took to the skies in his first mission to bomb Nazi Germany. It would also be his last.
Keirn’s B-17 was shot down that day and he became a POW for the remainder of the war. Released in May 1945 after the defeat of Germany, Keirn returned to the United States and stayed in the military. He became a part of the newly formed U.S. Air Force.
In 1965, Keirn embarked for Vietnam, flying F-4 Phantom II’s.
Army Emergency Relief (AER) was formed in 1942 with the mission to alleviate financial stress on the force. Since they opened their doors they’ve given out $2 billion dollars in aid. They remain a part of the Army, and assistance is coordinated by mission and garrison commanders at Army bases throughout the world. With the continual threat of the coronavirus looming, AER is ready and not just to serve soldiers – but all branches of the military.
Lieutenant General Raymond Mason (ret.) has been the Director of AER since 2016 and feels passionate about his role at AER and what the organization can do for military families. He shared that the one thing that keeps him up at night is the soldier or military member that doesn’t know about AER.
“If a soldier, airman, sailor, marine or coast guardsman is distracted by something in their life…. like finances, they probably aren’t focused on their individual training. They aren’t focused on their unit mission and if we send them into a combat zone with those distractions they are a danger to themselves and their buddies on their left and right,” said Mason. That’s where AER comes in.
AER is a 501c3 non-profit and receives no federal funding; instead they rely on the generous donations of others to make their mission a reality. Mason also shared that AER has close relationships with all of the other services relief organizations, with them often working together to serve those in need. For example, a coastie can walk into an AER office on post and get the same help as a soldier, although the representative they work with has to follow the guidelines of their branch’s relief organization.
Their biggest concern right now is information. “I want to make sure everyone from private to general knows about our program,” said Mason. He touched on the new environment of social media and the exploding availability of aid to military families. While he shared that it can be a good thing that there are so many organizations devoted to supporting the military; there are also some really bad agencies out there. Mason shared that AER is working hard on more strategic communication and marketing of their relief program to prevent that.
“This isn’t a giveaway program, it’s a help up. You get back on your feet and get back in the fight,” said Mason. AER is also open to all ranks, knowing that anyone can need assistance at any time. They can walk into AER and know that they’ll have their back. AER maintains a 4 out of 4 star rating with Charity Navigator, shared Mason, and it’s something they are very proud of.
There are military members who are reluctant to request help through relief agencies out of fear of reprimand or negative impacts to their career. While AER encourages members to go to their chain of command with their needs, even granting approval for first sergeants to sign checks up to 00 – Mason understands it isn’t always easy. As long as they are outside of their initial trainings and have been serving over twelve months, they can go through direct access to get help without involving command.
As the military orders a stand down on travel due to the coronavirus, guard families are concerned. Many of them are unable to hold civilian jobs due to the frequent schools, trainings, TDYs and deployments. With orders being canceled or held, this means financial ruin could be just a paycheck away. AER will be there for those families and stands ready to serve them.
But all of this costs money, something that AER will always need to continue to support military members and their families. They are stepping up their donation requests by engaging with American citizens and corporations. “We’ve never done that throughout our history and we are doing it for the first time,” said Mason. He continued by sharing although they’ve received support from them in the past, they’ve never asked. Now they are asking.
AER just began its annual fundraising campaign, which kicked off on March 1 and will run through May 15, 2020. For the first time, they are really involving the bases and have turned it into a fun event that each group can make their own, Mason shared. There will be an awards ceremony later on in the year to celebrate those who went the extra mile.
He also shared that AER and most relief societies receive a very low percentage of donations that are actually received from active duty, which is concerning. Mason stated that it isn’t about the amount that they give, but that they do give. “Military members fight for each other. When in combat you fight for your buddy on your left or right. If you aren’t willing to reach in your back pocket to help your buddy on your left and right, we have a problem,” said Mason.
“Leave no comrade behind” is the army’s creed – it is a motto that all should take to heart, especially at home.
To learn more about AER and how you can help their mission, click here.