Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats warned about threats from space at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats on Feb. 13, 2018.
“As if we don’t have enough threats here on earth, we need to look to the heavens — threats in space,” he said.
“The global expansion of the space industry will extend space-enabled capabilities and situational awareness to nation-states and commercial space actors in the coming years. The primary concern relates to satellites and anti-satellite capabilities.”
Right now, the U.S. military is heavily reliant on GPS and signals sent between satellites in space. Col. Richard Zellmann, commander of the 1st Space Brigade, a unit within the Space and Missile Defense Command, said that up to 70% of the Army’s combat systems depend on signals sent from space.
In his prepared statement, Coats said Russia and China, having recognized the value of space-based communication and reconnaissance, “will continue to expand their space-based reconnaissance, communications, and navigation systems in terms of the numbers of satellites, the breadth of their capability, and the applications for use.”
To make matters worse, Russian and Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities are becoming increasingly advanced. Those capabilities include (ASAT) missiles, satellites capable of performing kamikaze-style attacks, jamming technology, and “directed-energy weapons” that could “blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors, such as those used for remote sensing or missile defense.”
China and Russia continue to at least publicly promote diplomatic efforts to prevent the militarization of space. But as Coats pointed out, “many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain.”
Coats estimated that Russian and Chinese ASAT weapons will probably “reach initial operational capability in the next few years.” If those weapons were to take out American satellites, American warfighting capabilities would be seriously hampered.
In the words of Zellmann: “When you start taking away those combat multipliers, we need to go back then to the days of the industrial-age army where you have to have three times as many people as the adversary does.”
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act was recently signed, which included a measure that will allow fully-disabled veterans the ability to utilize Space-Available travel.
Under the Disabled Veterans Access to Space-A Travel Act, veterans with a service-connected, permanent disability rating of 100 percent will be able to travel in the Continental United States or directly between the CONUS and Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa (Guam and American Samoa travelers may transit Hawaii or Alaska); or traveling within Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands on flights operated by Air Mobility Command.
Prior to this authorization, only military retirees, meaning those with a blue DD Form 2, and current service members were entitled to this benefit. This particular piece of legislations was originally introduced by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2016.
According to lawmakers, this proposal will allow travel on Space-A at no additional cost to the Department of Defense and without aircraft modifications. Additionally, data from the Government Accountability Office noted that roughly 77 percent of space-available seats in 2011 were occupied by only 2.3 percent of the 8.4 million eligible individuals for the program.
(Department of Defense photo)
Travelers should contact their local Passenger Terminal for further details and review travel information found on the AMC Travel Page for specific details on the Space A travel program.
Editor’s note: Passengers seeking Space-Available or Space-A travel must keep in mind that there is No Guarantee you will be selected for a seat. Be aware that Space-A travelers must be prepared to cover commercial travel expenses if flight schedules are changed or become unavailable to allow Space-A travel. Per DODI 4515.13, Section 4, Paragraph 4.1.a, Reservations: There is no guarantee of transportation, and reservations will not be accepted or made for any space-available traveler. The DOD is not obligated to continue an individual’s travel or return the individual to the point of origin or any other point. Travelers should have sufficient personal funds to pay for commercial transportation, lodging, and other expenses if space-available transportation is not available.
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”
Fall brings changing leaves, shortening days and cooler temperatures. At VA, it also means a slew of conferences and conventions.
Normally, you’d find us all over the country at various professional health care conferences. While in-person events are currently off the table, there are still plenty of chances to catch us at virtual career events.
Check out the list of online events below that we’ll be attending or hosting this fall. You can sign up for one to learn more about VA, what it’s like to work here and how you can find your perfect VA job.
VA Virtual Open House: At noon ET every Wednesday through Oct. 28, you can sign up to talk to a VA recruiter at our virtual open house. Learn more about open positions, how to apply and the many benefits of a VA career. During the 10-minute chat, you’ll also have a chance to ask the recruiter any other questions you might have about working at VA.
Talk About It Tuesday: Looking for more information about what it’s like to work at VA? Hear about it straight from VHA Marketing Specialist Mike Owens. Every Tuesday on LinkedIn, Owens talks about his experiences at VA and gives advice to job seekers. Topics he’s covered include common application mistakes, VA work culture and advice for transitioning military personnel. Once a month, he also sits down with a VA expert for a longer question-and-answer session. Grab some lunch and come join us next Tuesday at noon ET for another episode, or check out our archive of past videos anytime.
VHA Innovation Experience (iEX): Returning virtually this October, our third annual iEX gives you a chance to discover how VA is using innovation, partnership and technology to change and save Veteran lives. From Oct. 27-29, you can attend talks and demos, watch the VHA Shark Tank competition, attend discussion panels and virtual exhibits, and listen to keynote addresses from health care industry leaders. Register for iEX here.
Other virtual events: You can also catch us at a number of virtual events held by external partners this fall. If you live in the St. Louis area or are interested in working there, we’ll be exhibiting at a PracticeMatch virtual career fair from 4-7 p.m. CT on Oct. 29. We’ll also be at:
Soldiers aren’t likely to don space suits and blast off into space to fight an enemy, the head of Army Space Command said this week.
But the domain is going to play a big role in the way the Army trains and fights in the future, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commanding general of Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told reporters at the annual Association of the U.S. Army meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We need to make sure we’re going to be able to protect what we have in space,” the three-star said. “But I don’t think that lends itself necessarily to formations in space.”
Space as a future conflict zone led President Donald Trump to direct Pentagon leaders last year to create a Space Force. The U.S. has since stood up Space Command, a new unified combatant command that’s serving as a precursor to the future Space Force.
“Space is very important,” Dickinson said. “It’s gotten a lot of national senior leader attention over the last year or so, and the Army is excited to be part of that.”
The service is developing a new space training strategy, he added, which will likely be completed in the next three or four months. That could lead to changes across the force about how soldiers train for ground fights.
There are a lot of space-based tools on which soldiers currently rely, he said, that could be jammed or degraded by adversaries. The Army will need to place soldiers at the unit level who understand those risks and challenges.
“We need soldiers that are subject-matter experts who know about space in formations,” Dickinson said.
The Army’s upcoming training strategy could suggest how those formations will be organized, he said. It’s also going to outline how security challenges in space will affect future operating environments.
“The training strategy … will give you fundamentals on what we need to look for as far as environments we’re going to operate in and what we see in terms of those formations and who will be in those types of formations,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
U.S. Central Command is launching an investigation to see whether its troops violated the rules of engagement after video footage of what appeared to be a service member firing into a civilian truck surfaced online.
The video, first reported by Politico, contains a compilation of wartime clips it says were captured in Afghanistan. The clips are synced to rapper Kendrick Lamar’s song, “Humble.” An anonymous user reportedly uploaded the video, titled “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony,” and was said to have quickly removed it from YouTube.
The scene in question begins with the service member riding in an armored vehicle that passes a truck. The service member, who already had a shotgun-type weapon trained at the driver’s side of the truck, fires a round through the driver’s window.
Based on the footage, it was not clear whether the driver was hit, or if the rounds were non-lethal, special operations veterans who examined the footage said in the report. Various rounds, such as a bean-bag type round, are in circulation in the military to pacify crowds or breach doors and windows.
The context of the clip, which lasts only about one second during the 3:09-minute montage, was not clear, given the absence of related footage before and after the shooting.
“The amateur video posted on a public website gives us serious concern,” U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel said in a statement to Politico. “The video in question is not official, not authorized, and does not represent the professionalism of the service members of U.S. Central Command.”
Votel added that CENTCOM “will take appropriate actions as a result of this investigation.”
Scenes from the montage also reveal that the service members may have been special operations forces or embedded with Afghan commandos, based on unit patches, relaxed uniform standards, and the wide range of weapons they had at their disposal — including Javelin anti-tank missile launchers and rotary machine guns.
Another clip from Happy Few Ordnance Symphony (Image via GIPHY)
Similar montages of wartime scenes have come under scrutiny. In the past, both private military companies and U.S. troops have been criticized for firing their weapons indiscriminately in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I can assure you that this video does not represent the professionalism or humanity of the men and women of U.S. Central Command,” Votel continued. “We reject the unprofessional and callous message this video conveys.”
Miller at one point drew his sidearm during the attack, but did not fire, according to CNN.
The attack took place in Kandahar, and led to the death of Gen. Abdul Raziq, a powerful Afghan police chief.
Several other Afghan police and officials were killed or wounded, and three Americans were wounded in the incident as well. The assailant was reportedly killed in the firefight.
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was among the Americans wounded in Oct. 18, 2018’s incident and is recovering from a gunshot wound, a NATO spokesman confirmed to CNN on Oct. 21, 2018. Smiley is in charge of the NATO military advisory mission in southern Afghanistan.
The attack highlights just how insecure Afghanistan is, and came just two days before the country held national elections.
It was an astonishing moment in a conflict that recently entered its 18th year, and perhaps the most embarrassing piece of evidence yet the US is badly losing the war.
The Taliban hoped to kill a US general to get America to leave Afghanistan
A Taliban commander told NBC News if it had been successful in killing Miller, who emerged from the attack unscathed, that President Donald Trump would’ve withdrawn the roughly 15,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. The Taliban still feels the attack was a “major success” due to the death of Raziq.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday described the loss of Raziq, whom the Taliban attempted to kill dozens of times, as the “tragic loss of a patriot.” But Mattis also said the attack hasn’t made him less confident in the ability of Afghan security forces to take on the Taliban.
Despite the Pentagon’s efforts to downplay the significant of this attack, it’s a sign of how emboldened the Taliban has become via major gains over the past year or so.
The war has reached its deadliest point in years as the Taliban gains ground
At the moment, the Taliban controls or contests roughly half of all the country’s districts, according to the US military. But many military analysts claim approximately 61% of Afghanistan’s districts are controlled or threatened by the Taliban.
There have been eight US military deaths in Afghanistan in 2018. This is a far-cry from the deadliest year of the war for American in 2010, when 499 US troops were killed.
But civilian casualties are reaching unprecedented levels in Afghanistan, a sign of how unstable the country has become over the past year or so. The war is on track to kill over 20,000 civilians in Afghanistan this year alone, according to data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, meaning the conflict has reached its deadliest point in years.
America’s ‘forever war’
There is still no end in sight to this war, which costs US taxpayers roughly billion per year, and the US government is running out of answers as to why American troops are still fighting and dying there.
The conflict began as a reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks and the Taliban’s close ties to Osama bin Laden, who has since been assassinated by the US.
At this point, Americans born after 9/11 are old enough to enlist in the military with parental consent, and will have the opportunity to fight in a conflict sparked by an event they couldn’t possibly remember.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
“The video shows one side of the attack, the American dead, some photos were shot by an American soldier, but ISIS took them after the photographer was killed,” the Twitter user wrote, according to the Military Times.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in a statement that it was “reviewing the post and determining the veracity of the tweet and the assertions that there is an associated video.”
In addition to that inquiry, AFRICOM is currently investigating the ambush that led to the deaths of 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers — Staff Sgts. Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright; and Sgt. La David Johnson. The soldiers were reportedly engaged in a joint mission with Nigerien forces when they were attacked.
US President Donald Trump called for expanded cooperation with Russia on July 9, as a cease-fire brokered by the two powers and Jordan for southern Syria came into effect.
The cease-fire covering three war-torn provinces in southern Syria is the first tangible outcome following months of strategy and diplomacy between the new Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow.
Trump tweeted that the cease-fire, which came into effect at noon July 9, “will save lives.”
“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” he posted on Twitter shortly after the agreement came into effect.
A resident and local opposition activist in Daraa, near the Jordanian border, reported an uneasy calm hours into the truce.
“There’s still a lot of anxiety,” said Ahmad al-Masalmeh. “We’ve entered the cease-fire but there are no mechanisms to enforce it. That’s what concerns people.”
Six years of fighting and siege have devastated Daraa, one of the first cities to see large protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
It remains contested by US-backed rebels and Syrian government forces supported by Russia and Iran. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble by government artillery and Russian air power.
The truce also covers the Quneitra and Sweida provinces, where the government and the rebels are also fighting Islamic State militants, who are not included in the agreement.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict through a network of on-the-ground activists, reported calm across the three provinces as dusk fell July 9.
The cease-fire agreement followed weeks of secretive talks between the US, Russia, and Jordan in Amman to address the buildup of Iranian-backed forces, in support of the Syrian government, near the Jordanian and Israeli borders.
Israel has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran, which is a close ally of the Syrian government, to set up a permanent presence in Syria. It has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound forHezbollah in Lebanon.
It has also struck Syrian military installations on several occasions this year after shells landed inside the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said July 9 that Israel would welcome a “genuine cease-fire” in southern Syria so long as it doesn’t enable Iran and its proxies to develop a military presence along the border.
The Trump administration also ordered airstrikes against the Syrian government and Iranian-backed militias, in a break with Obama administration policy. The strikes, including one on a government air base in central Syria, drew only muted responses from Moscow.
No cease-fire has lasted long in the six-year-old Syrian war, and no mechanisms have been publicly set out to monitor or enforce this latest endeavor.
It was announced July 6 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg after a meeting between Trump, Putin, and their top diplomats.
The Syrian government maintains it is fighting a war against terrorist groups. The Al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee is one of the most effective factions fighting alongside rebels in Daraa.
There are more rumors and myths floating around about the Central Intelligence Agency then there are actual facts. “The Agency” or “The Company” is charged with preempting threats and furthering national security objectives by collecting and analyzing intelligence and conducting covert action while simultaneously safeguarding our nation’s secrets. It’s a broad mission, and a lot of trust has been granted to them by the American people to carry it out.
But it takes a special kind of person to thrive in the CIA.
Who, or what, are they looking for? And do those who served at the tip of the spear while in the military have a competitive advantage? If so, is a U.S. Navy SEAL better than a U.S. Army Ranger? Or does a Green Beret’s experience hold more weight when competing for one of the few spots available as a gray man?
The CIA doesn’t publicly answer any of those questions, instead opting to keep their ideal candidate’s qualifications vague. So we reached out to a few veterans of the Agency to see if they noticed any trends.
Hafer while deployed to Africa.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Evan Hafer, former CIA contractor
Evan Hafer is in the coffee business these days, but he started out as a U.S. Army Special Forces NCO (noncommissioned officer) before transitioning to contracting for the CIA. He’s deployed dozens of times around the world on their behalf, and he even assessed and trained those who were trying out for the Agency’s elite high-threat, low-visibility security force toward the end of his career.
“It all depends on what kind of officer you’re looking for,” Hafer said. “When you look at paramilitary operations, they have a wide variety of objectives. A good portion is working by, through, and with foreign nationals while conducting covert action. For a long time, Special Forces did a lot of covert action, so they made for the best agents in that respect.”
Hafer while deployed to Afghanistan.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Hafer went on to explain that there are different types of jobs at the Agency that require different skill sets. “Typically a good Ranger NCO will make a great guy for on-the-ground, high-threat, low-visibility security work. And Marines across the spectrum are pretty good at a lot of different things.”
Hafer made sure to note the difference between conducting direct action (DA) in the military’s special operations units and gathering intelligence for the CIA. “If you like blowing doors down, intel will bore the fuck out of you,” Hafer said. “It’s a lot of writing, and regardless of background, guys who enjoy DA might not like the intel job.”
“If you’re a hammer and every problem is a nail, then you won’t like being the pen.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
Bob Baer, former CIA case officer
You may recognize Bob Baer from his work hosting investigative shows on the History Channel or delivering commentary on CNN, but before that he spent 21 years as a CIA case officer. He deployed around the world, speaks eight languages, and even won the CIA’s career intelligence medal.
“It’s almost always Special Forces,” Baer said about the ideal background for working operations in the CIA. “These guys are out in places training locals. I found the SF guys, especially the ones who have experience working in strange places, to be most effective.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
He even went so far as to say that elite Tier 1 operators (that many would assume to be perfect for the job) often don’t work out. “For them, it’s so low-speed — there’s not as much excitement as they’re used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Delta or SEAL Team Six guy make the adjustment.”
Baer echoed Hafer’s sentiment toward the U.S. Marines, saying, “It seemed the Marines did a good job adjusting.” And admitted that he usually preferred a military background over a straight academic: “All in all, people who were in the military were best because they learned about dealing with government BS, while the least equipped were always the academics.”
Robyn, like Baer, was a case officer for the CIA and spent years running sources around the world — to include active combat zones. She asked that we not use her last name but was happy to offer her thoughts on not just the ideal military resume, but also what it actually takes to be a successful case officer regardless of background.
“At the end of the day, you’re selling a lemon. You’re convincing someone to commit espionage and provide intel against their country in exchange for whatever is valuable to them,” Robyn explained. “You have to convince them that you care, that their life matters — whether it does or not.”
“So the guys that do well are the guys that understand the human factor,” she continued. “They have to understand what makes someone tick and pretend to be concerned. People are not going to put their lives at risk for someone who doesn’t care. You have to care.”
Robyn recalled a former state trooper who she worked with that did well, noting that a law enforcement background laid a solid foundation for talking to people who can be difficult to extract information from, such as witnesses and victims.
“The militant guys don’t do well,” Robyn said, noting that there’s a difference between being militant and being from the military, and that it takes a unique person to operate in the gray for months or even years at a time. “They’ve gotta operate without mental, emotional, or personal boundaries. There’s no commander’s intent, and the mission isn’t always clear. A renaissance man will do better than the fire-breather, even if they both come from Special Forces. We need the guys who can jump between philosophy and tactics while maneuvering in all different environments.”
The one thing that Hafer, Baer, and Robyn all agreed on is that no single bullet point on a resume qualifies someone for the difficult work of the CIA. They all emphasized that it takes a special person, and the best people at the Agency often have certain intangibles that you either have or you don’t. It seems it takes much more than a trident or a tab to make it into the nation’s most elite intelligence agency — and that’s a good thing.
Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe
Over the past nearly 40 years, the now 93-year-old Mugabe has gone from an African independence hero to being widely perceived as an authoritarian tyrant.
Here’s a look at the life and career of the controversial Zimbabwe leader:
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born February 21, 1924 in what was then Southern Rhodesia. The territory had been in British control since 1888.
Mugabe was born on a Catholic mission near Harare, now Zimbabwe’s capital, and educated by Jesuit priests. He first got work as a primary school teacher.
He moved to South Africa to attend the University of Fort Hare, known at the time as a center of African nationalism.
Mugabe is often compared with South African leader Nelson Mandela, another Fort Hare graduate who went on to lead his country out of white rule. While both men were revolution leaders, critics note the diverging paths they took once in power.
Returning to Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe became involved in politics. At the time, the country was dominated by white minority rule. Below, a Rhodesian government soldier holds African villagers at gunpoint in 1977, as they’re interrogated about anti-government guerrilla activity.
Perhaps the embodiment of white minority rule was Ian Smith, below on the right. Named prime minister of Southern Rhodesia in 1964, Smith quickly declared independence from Britain in 1965, naming the country Rhodesia. “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it,” Smith said.
Smith ruled over Rhodesia until 1980. He said in 1966 that “The white man is master of Rhodesia” and declared in 1976 that there would be no black majority rule, “not in a thousand years.”
Mugabe spent 10 years in jail — from 1964-1974 — for opposing white rule. While in prison, he earned three degrees, adding to four he already had.
Upon his release, he eventually gained leadership of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, which was locked in a brutal civil war with the Smith-led white government. Mugabe became known as the “thinking man’s guerrilla,” espousing Marxist ideas.
At the end of the war, Mugabe was elected Zimbabwe’s first black leader in 1980. His party, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), was swept into power. Here he is emerging from parliament following its official opening, alongside his wife Sally.
Mugabe was quickly welcomed on the international stage, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 1980 as Zimbabwe became a newly admitted member.
Things started to change as Joshua Nkomo — a former Mugabe ally during their shared fight for an independent country — emerged as Zimbabwe’s leading opposition figure. Below are Mugabe, left, and Nkomo, right, as revolutionaries in 1976.
In 1982, Mugabe initiated military action in Matabeleland against perceived uprisings, blamed on Nkomo.
Mugabe sent North Korean-trained army units in to Matabeleland. Mass graves were later discovered — prompting accusations of genocide — and human rights groups estimated that 20,000 people died.
His first wife, Sally, seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.
In 1996, Mugabe married his former secretary Grace Marufu, who eventually went on to become almost as controversial as her husband.
Mugabe became president of Zimbabwe in 1990, after serving as the country’s prime minister. During the decade, the government took increased control of the economy and land redistribution continued, in an effort to move the country’s prosperous white-owned farms to black ownership.
The 1990s also saw some of the first public uprisings against Mugabe, as students and workers took to the streets to protest the seemingly increasingly authoritarian government.
“Officially, Zimbabwe remains a parliamentary democracy, but in reality Mugabe presides over the country as a tyrant in the classical sense of the word: an autocrat who rules exclusively for his own gratification, with contempt for the common good,” Philip Gourevitch wrote in a 2002 New Yorker profile.
The new century saw Zimbabwe’s economy crash, shrinking by more than a third from 2000 to 2008. Unemployment skyrocketed to more than 80%.
Much of the blame for Zimbabwe’s economic woes could be blamed on the land reform programs, which amped up in 2000, as black war veterans violently took over white-owned farms, a move Mugabe supported.
By the end of the decade, Zimbabwe was hit was hyperinflation, abandoning its currency in 2009.
Despite both popular and political pressure, Mugabe refused to give up power. In 2008, Mugabe said “only God” could remove him from office.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing from Zimbabwe in 2010, reported that many black citizens wanted a return to white rule. “It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,” one 58-year-old farmer told Kristof. “It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Mugabe’s age became increasingly apparent as he entered his 90s. A public and well-documented fall in 2015 was confusingly denied by the government.
As Zimbabwe prepared for general elections in 2018, there were few indications that the country would soon see the likely end of the world’s longest serving leader.
Mugabe’s rapid downfall started in mid-November, following the expulsion of two consecutive vice-presidents and the rise of Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
“Gucci” Grace Mugabe, as she has come to be known for his lavish spending in the face of the country’s poverty, had seen her own standing in Zimbabwe’s government quickly rise since taking over the ZANU-PF women’s league in 2014.
The Zimbabwe army took to the streets of Harare on November 15, placing the capital and the Mugabe family under military control.
On November 19th, Mugabe was widely expected to announce his resignation — but didn’t. Zimbabwe’s parliament has now pledged to impeach him if he doesn’t leave office.
Mugabe finally announced his resignation on Nov. 21.
An investigation into events that led to the reliefs of the commanding officer, former executive officer and command master chief of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge earlier this month implicated 15 other officers and senior leaders on the ship in the scandal.
Cmdr. Sean Rongers, Cmdr. Brandon Murray, and Command Master Chief Richard Holmes, were relieved April 7 by Destroyer Squadron 28 commander Capt. Richard Brawley after an investigation found fireworks were being stored aboard the Bainbridge in violation of Navy instructions and unlawful gambling was taking place among officers, officials said.
A 149-page preliminary inquiry report released to Military.com through a Freedom of Information Act request found the ship’s leaders also failed to get a pregnant officer transferred off the ship in keeping with Navy policy, conducted certain ship maneuvers that endangered gear, and encouraged relaxed uniform guidelines under long underway periods with the sale of “no-shave chits.”
A command climate survey also obtained by Military.com dating from February also found that the ship’s top officers presided over a command marked by exeptionally poor trust in leadership and leadership and organizational cohesion.
According to the February investigation, Rongers, the commanding officer, directed the purchase of just under $1,500 worth of fireworks for a July 4 display aboard the Bainbridge, using funds from the ship’s morale, welfare and recreation account. In April 2015, Rongers directed a subordinate to purchase the fireworks, knowing that the ship had conducted a similar fireworks display in 2013.
The subordinate, whose name is redacted in the report, negotiated a deal with the company Phantom Fireworks to buy the pyrotechnics. An overnight trip was made to purchase the goods, which included fireworks with names like “The Beast Unleashed” and “Swashbuckler 72-shot.”
Some of the fireworks purchased were not available for sale in Virginia, the investigation shows. Then, while the ship was operating in the Virginia Capes area, near Virginia Beach, Rongers dispatched rigid-hulled inflatable boats to pick the fireworks up at Rudee Inlet in a late-night operation.
Rongers told investigators that the fireworks were brought aboard via late-night boat operations in order to avoid force protection measures or other regulations that might have prohibited them coming through the main gate when the ship was pierside in Norfolk, Virginia. He also said he checked with another officer about the legality of using MWR funds for fireworks and got the all-clear. The officer, whose name is redacted in the investigation, denied that Rongers had checked with her.
The fireworks were stored in black trash bags in the ship’s pyro locker, near its barbershop. Ultimately, however, officials from Destroyer Squadron 28 got wind of the fireworks plan when a prospective weapons officer from the Bainbridge raised concerns, saying he had already confronted Rongers and Murray, the executive officer about having them stored aboard ship.
Rongers had the fireworks removed from the ship and loaded into his own car. The MWR funds used to purchase them were never reimbursed, however.
Investigators found that Rongers and Murray failed to do the research needed to ensure the fireworks purchase and display were legal. They violated MWR policy prohibiting funds from being used to pay for “hazardous activities,” according to the report, and Rongers “rationalized” his actions because a fireworks display had taken place before, even though Navy policy prohibits fireworks being stored aboard ship and transported the way that they were.
Rongers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military.com.
The gambling accusations stem from a weekly Friday night officers’ poker game that took place in the Bainbridge officers’ wardroom with Rongers and Murray’s consent and participation during the ship’s 2015 deployment. There was a $10 buy-in, and participants played with chips in lieu of money and kept scores and money owed written on a piece of paper.
Concerns arose after an officer was asked to pay a buy-in fee she claimed she was never informed about. A legal officer approached Rongers and Murray with doubts about the legality of the command-sanctioned game, according to the report, but they dismissed these concerns, saying no one was forced to play.
Ultimately, the game was temporarily closed down and replaced by a non-gambling game night with activities like Uno and Risk. However, the game started up again later in the deployment, investigators found.
The investigation also revealed a booming business: the purchase of “no-shave chits” which allowed Navy personnel to grow facial hair or, if female, to wear their hair in a ponytail during long periods underway. At $30 a pop, the MWR raised nearly $12,700 on a single deployment from sale of the chits, the investigation found. The ship’s leaders sanctioned this practice, and Rongers even purchased a chit at one point, documents show. While the practice of selling the chits is fairly common, investigators found, it is not permitted by policy.
Bainbridge leadership also fell afoul of policy when an officer became pregnant. Though regulations stipulate that pregnant sailors need to be transferred off-ship by the 20th week of pregnancy, she was not transferred until some five weeks after that deadline, even though the report shows she repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of her chain of command. Moreover, Murray waited until January 2016 — past the pregnancy’s 20-week point — to inform the ship’s placement officer of the need to transfer the officer, even though he was aware of the situation in November, the investigation found.
Finally, Rongers’ handling of the Bainbridge on breakaways following underway replenishment caused alarm among sailors and led to the loss of some gear, the investigation found. On multiple occasions, witnesses testified, Rongers would conduct the breakaways at high speed, before personnel and gear were secured. In one case, sailors ordered to clear the deck could hear items tumbling around as the ship broke away. Two aluminum drip pans were lost over the course of the deployment, and one “killer tomato” or inflatable naval gunnery target, was struck loose by the wind, but was ultimately recovered.
Investigators faulted many other officers for failing to take appropriate action in light of the improper behavior taking place aboard the Bainbridge. While Rongers and Murray were advised they were suspected of violating articles 92 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, violation of a general order and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, respectively, 16 others were cited on suspicion of dereliction of duty or violation of a general order.
These include the ship’s chief engineer, the supply corps officer, the weapons officer, the force protection officer, the recreational services officer, the Tomahawk leading chief petty officer and others, though the names of these individuals were redacted.
Investigators recommended that Rongers face non-judicial punishment for directing a subordinate to illegally transport and store fireworks. They also recommended that the ship’s chief petty officers ensure sailors are taught lessons on “misplaced loyalty” with regards to the fireworks incident, since many aboard ship were found to have covered for leadership, rather than adhered to policy.
While the investigation does not cover how problems with the ship’s command affected the rank-and-file, a command climate survey from the time reveals troubling trends. Fifty-three percent of sailors on the Bainbridge rated their trust in leadership unfavorably, according to the survey. On leadership cohesion, 63 percent of sailors gave unfavorable ratings, and 47 percent of sailors rated organizational cohesion unfavorably. Organizational processes received a 52 percent unfavorable rating, and 42 percent of sailors rated their job satisfaction unfavorably.
A spokesman for Naval Surface Force Atlantic, Lt. Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, said Rongers, Murray and Holmes remain assigned to SURFLANT in Norfolk. Vasquez said the administrative process was still ongoing for the sailors named in the investigation and declined further comment.
On a Sunday a little over 12 years ago, on a battlefield far from home, US Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding, then in his mid-20s, suddenly found himself in an intense firefight that changed his life forever.
The mission was to capture or kill a local terrorist leader holed up in a mountain fortress occupied by Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The plan was to insert US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos into a valley below by helicopter and take the enemy by surprise. Once they were on the ground, the joint force was expected to climb into the mountains on foot, infiltrate the town, neutralize the hostiles, and get out.
Some of the troops called to execute the mission questioned whether it was too risky. Their concerns were brushed aside, and the mission moved forward as planned. A fellow Green Beret who went with Walding on the mission told Insider it was “cursed” from the start.
This is the story of not just that fateful mission, but Walding’s refusal to give up after tragedy struck.
John Wayne Walding and Ryan Wallen, a fellow Green Beret who accompanied Walding on the fateful mission. (Courtesy photo)
‘A very long day at the office’
On April 6, 2008, a handful of troops with Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group and a number of Afghan commandos flew into Shok Valley. It was the start of what Walding called “a very long day at the office.”
Shok Valley (US Army graphic)
Their troubles began almost immediately upon arrival.
“We couldn’t even land, the terrain was so f—ing bad,” Walding’s friend and fellow Green Beret, former Staff Sgt. Ryan Wallen, recalled. “Our helicopter just kind of hovered about 10 feet up over a freezing cold river and gigantic rocks, and we had to jump out of the back. This was already a rough start.”
Their situation quickly got worse. As the lead element made its way toward the objective, the mountains suddenly erupted with gunfire. A large force of several hundred enemies ambushed the American and Afghan troops, upending the mission and turning it into a terrifying fight for survival.
“Gunfire just opened up on us,” Wallen said. He was positioned down by the river near the base of the mountain when the bullets started to fly.
“I took a [rocket-propelled grenade] and kind of got blown out,” Wallen continued. “I was laying half in the water, bleeding out of my throat and chest, beaten up a little bit. The overpressure kind of f—ed me up.”
Nothing vital had been damaged in the blast, so the team’s medic, Staff Sgt. Ron Shurer, was able to get him patched up and back in the fight. Farther up the mountain, the lead element was pinned down and taking heavy fire.
An Afghan interpreter had been killed, and two US soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr and Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, were severely wounded. Supporting, Walding moved into position between them and the incoming fire. “That’s when I got shot,” he said.
An enemy sniper shot Walding in the leg, nearly tearing it from his body. “It was hanging on by like a tendon or two,” Wallen said. “I’ve never seen an injury that looked that bad.”
“I never will forget falling forward and then rolling over to see that leg just hanging there by only about an inch of flesh,” Walding recalled. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Walding was not done fighting though. After putting a tourniquet in place to stop the bleeding, he used his boot laces to strap the bottom part of his leg to his thigh, picked up his rifle, and got back to it.
Most of the US Special Forces team suffered wounds of one kind or another, but “as f—ed up as everybody was, we didn’t have time for anybody to lay there bleeding and dying,” Wallen said.
American planes were called into conduct dozens of danger-close airstrikes with large bombs that Walding said blacked out the sun with debris.
Unable to move forward with their mission, the US and Afghan troops fought fiercely for hours just to stay alive until they could be pulled out.
Wallen and a few others helped get Walding down the mountain and to the evacuation point. “As the medevac birds were coming in, we were dragging casualties across the river, and it was freezing,” he said.
They tried a couple of times to get Walding on a helicopter but were unsuccessful, as the helos were either full or taking rounds, and each time they failed, they had to carry him back across the river to a safe position shielded from the gunfire.
“Finally, a third bird came in, and we took JW back across the river a fifth time,” Wallen said. “We were finally able to get him on that bird, but we ended up giving John hypothermia along with all of his damn injuries. It was like bad things kept stacking up.”
All of the US troops that went into Shok Valley made it out alive. Some of the Afghans, however, did not. Although they were unable to complete the mission, the US and Afghan forces left behind hundreds of enemy dead.
Ten members of Walding’s team, himself included, would later be awarded the Silver Star. Not since Vietnam had that many Silver Stars been awarded for a single engagement. And, two of the soldiers who were in Shok Valley later received the Medal of Honor for their courage under fire.
The immediate aftermath was no celebration though. Walding, who had hoped that his leg could be saved, went into surgery. “I never will forget waking up the next day,” he recalled. He said he was afraid to look down. When he finally did, he cried.
John Wayne Walding (US Army Photo by Capt. David Chace)
‘A leg was not going to stop me’
John Wayne Walding was born on the Fourth of July in Texas. His father named him after the famous actor who starred in classic Westerns and war movies because, in his words, if “you have a cool birthday, you need a cool name.”
But while Walding was named after the man who directed and starred in the 1968 film “The Green Berets,” he never thought much about the military until he was about 20 years old and realized he needed a real job.
Walding talked to a recruiter who asked him if he wanted to shoot missiles. He said “Hell yeah” and joined the Army as a Patriot missile operator.
He found his true calling after he joined up though. “As soon as I saw the Green Berets and what the tip of the spear really is, that really got my gears spinning,” he told Insider.
Wallen met Walding when the latter joined his team as a Green Beret, and they quickly became good friends.
“It was one of those connections that, just right away, we just kind of hit it off,” Wallen said. “We developed a really strong bond, and then it was just solidified when we were baptized in blood together.”
Wallen said he was one of the first people to see Walding when he came out of surgery after being wounded in Shok Valley.
Walding had been torn apart in battle, something not easily overcome, something that some never overcome, but he determined he was not done being an elite soldier. “Donning that Green Beret was one of the most profound moments of my life, and a leg was not going to stop me from doing that,” he told Insider.
Being a Green Beret meant being a part of something special, something meaningful that’s bigger than any one person. Reflecting on the events that unfolded in Shok Valley, Walding said, “We didn’t get through that day because I was great or any of our guys. It was because we were willing to fight to the death to keep each other alive.”
“You don’t just wake up the day after all of that and say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll hang up the hat.'”
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘You do it because you love it’
Walding said that he tries to live his life in such a way that he is not simply good, but great. Following his recovery, he decided to become a Special Forces sniper.
Just two years after he sustained a life-altering injury, Walding began the intense seven-week Special Forces Sniper Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina equipped with a ruggedized prosthetic and a determination to excel against all odds.
“Why did I keep going? Because I loved it,” Walding said.
“You don’t do what I did because you like it. You do it because you love it,” he continued. “To become a Green Beret, there’s a lot of people that quit because they just liked it. They liked the idea of being one, but that’s not how I live.”
Snipers are essential assets who provide battlefield intelligence and long-range precision fires, and the training is challenging across the military.
For the Special Forces, sniper training can be even more demanding. Through shooting and marksmanship sessions, gun runs, stalking, fast rope training, and climbing exercises, Walding held his own despite his prosthetic. “I never finished last,” he said.
Walding made history in the summer of 2010 by becoming the first amputee to graduate from the elite special warfare sniper course.
“His story is incredible,” Wallen said. “I don’t know that many people on the planet have the kind of resilience he does.” That’s not to say that there weren’t bad days, but when times got tough, it was his faith, family and friends, and love of country that got him through.
Walding wanted to return to his team and operational status, but he ultimately decided against it, opting instead to stay on as an instructor.
“I knew that no matter how good I was with one leg, a Green Beret with two was always going to be better,” Walding told Insider, explaining that he would never want to be in a scenario where one of his brothers or sisters was injured or killed because of him. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” he said.
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘Forever remember the cost of freedom’
After serving 12 years in the military, Walding retired in 2013 as a Sergeant First Class. He now lives in Texas with his wife and four kids.
As a civilian, Walding continues to serve.
He started Gallantry Global Logistics, a company named after the words on the back of his Silver Star, which reads “for gallantry in action.” He hopes to see it become the largest veteran employer in Texas. He is also the co-founder of Live to Give, a water bottle company that donates half of all profits to veteran and first responder charities.
Walding named his shipping company after his Silver Star, but the Purple Heart he was awarded for the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan has tremendous meaning too.
“I wear that Purple Heart figuratively every day,” Walding said. “Every single day, I wake up and I see my leg is missing. I will forever remember the cost of freedom. It really is a driving factor for me to not be good, but be great.”