At the same briefing, Brett McGurk the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, said the flow of foreign fighters had nearly stopped, and the group’s funding is at its “lowest level ever.”
McGurk pointed to ISIS’ own propaganda, which “about a year ago” stopped advising foreign fighters to come to Syria as the group was losing badly on the ground.
ISIS used to hold significant cities and oilfields in Iraq and Syria, but recent US-backed offensives have relegated them to a section of desert along the Iraqi-Syrian border, effectively trapping them.
Initially, after declaring the “caliphate,” or territory under ISIS’ ultra-hardline Islamic control in 2014, ISIS fighters proved potent on the battlefield rolling back Iraqi security forces. But after a US-led intervention that ultimately gained support from 75 countries, the terror group has nearly imploded.
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump invited military mothers and spouses to the White House May 9, 2018, in honor of Mother’s Day, and the president signed an executive order to enable military spouses to find work more easily in the private and federal sectors.
“Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday, is celebrated just one time per year,” the first lady said to the gathering in the White House East Room. “Today, I want to take this opportunity to let you all know that as mothers who are members of the military community, you deserve recognition for not only your love for your … children, but for the dedication and sacrifice you make on behalf of our country each and every day,” she said.
The president said he was honored by the presence of military spouses. “We celebrate your heroic service — and that’s exactly what it is,” he said.
The president talked about spouses’ hardships during long deployments. “Some of them are much longer than you ever bargained for, and you routinely move your families around the country and all over the world,” the president said.
(Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
“[My] administration is totally committed to every family that serves in the United States armed forces,” Trump said. “Earlier this year, I was proud to sign that big pay raise … and I am proud of it.”
Noting that the White House is taking action to expand employment opportunities for military spouses, the president said service members’ spouses would be given “treatment like never before,” noting that the unemployment rate among military spouses is more than 90 percent.
But that is going to change, he added.
“[For] a long time, military spouses have already shown the utmost devotion to our nation, and we want to show you our devotion in return,” the president said. “America owes a debt of gratitude to our military spouses — we can never repay you for all that you do.”
Following his remarks, Trump signed an executive order addressing military spouse unemployment by providing greater opportunities for military spouses to be considered for federal competitive service positions.
The order holds agencies accountable for increasing their use of the noncompetitive hiring authority for military spouses, and American businesses across the country are also encouraged to expand job opportunities for military spouses, the president said.
The Air Force today takes a ribbing from the other services for being soft, so it’s easy to forget that historically their mission has been one of the most dangerous. This was on display in World War II when Allied aircrews were tasked with bombing Nazi-occupied Germany and Imperial Japan.
In this clip, a World War II Royal Air Force veteran discusses what it was like flying bombers to Berlin through a wall of flak so thick that, as he describes it, it sounded like driving a car through a hailstorm. He also tells of the mission where their bomber was chased down by German fighters and forced to crash land.
Female Soldiers may now wear dreadlocks and male Soldiers whose religious faith requires beards and turbans may now seek permanent accommodation.
Army directive 2017-03, signed earlier this month, spells out changes to Army Regulation 670-1, the uniform policy, for the turban, worn by male Soldiers, the under-turban; male hair worn under a turban; the hijab, which is a head scarf worn by females; and beards worn by male members.
Sgt. Maj. Anthony J. Moore, the uniform policy branch sergeant major inside the Army’s G-1, said the policy change was made largely as a way to increase diversity inside the service, and to provide opportunity for more Americans to serve in uniform.
“This is so we can expand the pool of people eligible to join the Army,” Moore said. “There was a section of the population who previously were unable to enlist in the Army. This makes the Army better because you’re opening the doors for more talent. You’re allowing people to come in who have skills the Army can use.”
Female Soldiers have been asking for a while for permission to wear “locks,” or dreadlocks, Moore said.
“We understood there was no need to differentiate between locks, corn rows, or twists, as long as they all met the same dimension,” Moore said. “It’s one more option for female hairstyles. Females have been asking for a while, especially females of African-American decent, to be able to wear dreadlocks, and locks, because it’s easier to maintain that hairstyle.”
The Army directive says that each lock or dreadlock “will be of uniform dimension; have a diameter no greater than 1/2 inch; and present a neat, professional, and well-groomed appearance.”
All female Soldiers can opt to wear the dreadlocks, Moore said.
The Army has granted waivers to Sikh Soldiers since 2009 to wear a turban in lieu of issued Army headgear, and allowed those same Soldiers to wear the turban indoors when Army headgear would normally be removed. Moore said for those Soldiers, the waivers were permanent, but that it was unclear Army-wide that this was the case. That is no longer true, he said.
The new policy is that religious accommodation for Soldiers wanting to wear the turban needs to be requested only once, and that the accommodation will apply to them for their entire Army career.
In an Army directive dated Jan. 3, then-Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning made official the policy regarding the wear of turbans, beards, hijabs, and under-turbans.
“Based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations, and I direct that the wear and appearance standards established in … this directive be incorporated into AR 670-1,” Fanning wrote in the directive.
“With the new directive, which will be incorporated into the Army regulation, religious accommodations are officially permanent for Soldiers,” Moore said.
Also a change: whereas in the past requests for such accommodation rose to the Pentagon before they could be approved, permission can now be granted by brigade-level commanders. Bringing approval down to that level, Moore said, speeds up the approval process dramatically.
That was the intent, Moore said. “They are trying to speed up the process for the Army and for the Soldier.”
Moore said the same religious accommodation rules apply for those Soldiers seeking to wear a beard for religious reasons, and to female Soldiers who want to wear a hijab as well.
If brigade-level commanders feel it inappropriate to approve the accommodation for some reason, he said, then they can recommend disapproval, but it must be channeled to the GCMCA for decision. Under the new policy, requests for religious accommodations that are not approved at the GCMCA-level will come to the secretary of the Army or designee for a final decision.
Still at issue for Soldiers is wear of a beard in conjunction with a gas mask.
“Study results show that beard growth consistently degrades the protection factor provided by the protective masks currently in the Army inventory to an unacceptable degree,” Fanning wrote in the Army directive. “Although the addition of a powered air-purifying respirator and/or a protective mask with a loose-fitting facepiece has demonstrated potential to provide adequate protection for bearded individuals operating in hazardous environments, further research, development, testing, and evaluation are necessary to identify masks that are capable of operational use and can be adequately maintained in field conditions.”
Moore said that until further testing is completed, and alternatives are found to protect bearded Soldiers in environments that are affected or are projected to be affected by chemical weapons, Soldiers with beards may be told to shave them in advance, with specific and concrete evidence of an expected chemical attack.
If a chemical warfare threat is immediate, Moore said, instructions to shave their beards would come from higher up, at the General Court-Martial Convening Authority-level — typically a division-level commander.
Likewise, Soldiers who seek religious accommodation to wear a beard will not be allowed to attend the Army schools required for entry into chemical warfare-related career fields, Moore said.
For wear of the beard, Moore said, the new directive allows for beards to be as long as the Soldier wants, so long as the beard can be rolled up and compressed to less than two inches from the bottom of the chin. Additionally, for those Soldiers wearing a beard under a religious accommodation, the rules for wearing a mustache are also new. Mustaches may extend past the corners of the mouth, but must be trimmed or groomed to not cover the upper lip.
Maj. Kamaljeet Kalsi, a civil affairs officer in the Army Reserve’s 404th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Dix, New Jersey, is a Sikh Soldier who wears both a turban and a beard. He said he welcomes the new policy change as an indication that the Army is now looking to both accolade his faith, and to open its doors to talent in the United States that might have been previously untapped.
“It means a lot to us,” Kalsi said. “And not just to Sikh Americans, but I think Americans that value religious freedom and religious liberty, and value diversity. I think it means a lot to all of us. To me it says the nation is moving in a direction that the founders intended, a pluralistic democracy that represents all. I think we’re a stronger nation when we can draw from the broadest amount of talent, the broadest talent pool. And it makes us a stronger military when the military looks like the people it serves.”
Capt. Simratpal Singh, with the 249th Engineer Battalion prime power section, said the policy is for him about acceptance.
“On a personal level, it means that I can serve freely and without having to worry about any stipulations or constraint,” he said. “That’s all I want: is to serve in the U.S. Army just like any of my peers.”
Because the next edition of AR 670-1 is expected to be published next month, the Army will not be able to include the new rules. But Moore said Soldiers can expect to see these most recent changes in the AR 670-1 that comes out at this time next year.
On February 3rd, a 70-year-old veteran will be taking the stairs — 1,576 of them.
Jerry Augustine of Middletown, Connecticut is set to participate in the Empire State Building Run-Up, the world’s oldest and most famous tower race. He will join an elite group of runners selected from thousands who vied for a spot in the event.
This will be the ninth time the Vietnam vet has run up the iconic New York City landmark’s 86 flights of stairs. He is running for Team Red White and Blue, a not-for-profit with the mission to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
The former Army Spec. was tasked with search and destroy missions, recovering bodies, and ambush patrols during his 1966-1967 deployment to Vietnam. The Hartford Courant recently detailed one of his more harrowing missions:
One day, while performing this duty, Augustine fell into a human trap known as punji pit, a camouflaged hole with sharpened bamboo stakes at the bottom. The stakes might be tipped with excrement to cause infection. Augustine was lucky. He said the pit was old and the stakes had rotted and merely collapsed under his weight.
Augustine said another close call came when he was “point man” on ambush patrol. Approaching a clearing, he said, he was spotted by a guerrilla fighter who fired an RPG. The mortar round struck a tree a few feet away. “It bounced off and landed right next to my boot,” Augustine said. He dove for cover, but the round failed to detonate.
“I still think about how close I was to death,” he said. “When, you’re young you don’t think about, but it hits me now.”
He said one of the worst experiences was when his company was sent to recover the bodies of fallen comrades in the aftermath of a three-day battle in fall 1966. “My platoon had the duty of carrying 30 bodies to the choppers to be put into body bags and sent back to friendly lines,” Augustine said. “It was just horrible.”
After the war he struggled with what is now known as ‘post traumatic stress.’ In 1992, his doctor prescribed Prozac, but it made him lethargic. A friend suggested he drop the meds and hit the pavement.
“My son had a paper route on a bicycle at the time, so I started running along with him delivering papers, a couple of miles a day,” Augustine told The Hartford Courant. “Pretty soon I was entering races, and doing pretty well. I became one of the best in my age group. Running made me feel great.”
Augustine won the ESB Run-Up race in the 50s division in 2001. His last race was 2007.
“When I turned 70 this year, I wanted to see if I could still do it,” he told the Courant. “I’d be really happy to get a time of 20 minutes this time. Maybe even 25 minutes. It’s a lot harder now.”
If you would like to get into ‘run-up-the-stairs-of-a-102-floor-building-in-25-minutes-or-less’ shape, here is Jerry’s simple routine:
Sprint up the stairs of a 12 story building: 3 times in a row, 3 times a week.
Few have served their country and community at the level of Floyd Carter, Sr. His service began in 1944 when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a 2nd Lt. Bombardier. He was among the first African-Americans to complete pilot training. At the time, the 1,000 black pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen were just a drop in the bucket of those fighting World War II.
After the war and after the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947, Carter joined the Air Force Reserve. He was a part of the massive flow of moral and material support for West Berlin that would come to be called the Berlin Airlift.
If you’re doing the math, that’s already 24 years of service.
As an Air Force Reservist, he needed a civilian job. In that, he continued to serve, joining the New York Police Department in 1953. Within three years, he was promoted to detective and spent 27 years serving the people of New York in some of the most trying, crime-ridden times in the city’s history.
He retired from the Air Force in 1974 and the NYPD in 1980.
Carter was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal from then-President George W. Bush in 2007. He and other Tuskegee Airmen were also invited to President Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration ceremony as well as the premiere of George Lucas’ 2012 film about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails.
We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.
This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.
Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.
The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to email@example.com. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.
Russia hinted on Jan. 11 that Ukraine manufactured the explosives used in an attempted drone attack on its military bases in Syria, following claims linking Turkey and the U.S. to the attack.
“Preliminary research has shown that PETN was used as a base for an explosive substance used in that ammo, which is more powerful than hexogen. The specified explosive is produced in a number of countries, including at Ukraine’s Shostka Chemical Reagents Plant,” Major General Alexander Novikov said in a Russian Ministry of Defense release.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense denied the allegations, according to Hromadske, a Ukrainian media outlet.
“This is nothing more than a regular informational attack,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Victoria Kushnir said. “We reject these allegations.”
Russia’s Hmeymim Air Base and Tartus Naval Facility in Syria were attacked overnight with a swarm of 13 drones on Jan. 5 and 6, but were seemingly successfully repelled.
Moscow has since released a number of pictures of the drones, which were fixed-wing UAVs made of wood and tape and powered by small internal combustion engines seen on lawn mowers.
Russia has continuously claimed the drones came from a local force that was backed by an outside power. But experts told Business Insider that the drones could have been constructed and operated without any outside help.
“I could literally turn 10 drones on right now in a field by myself and tell them to fly to a specific coordinate,” Brett Velicovich, a leading expert in drones and author of “Drone Warrior,” told Business Insider in an email.
“Basic swarming with drones now is so easy that any kid with an internet connection can figure out how to do it,” Velicovich said.
Russia plays the blame game
Moscow had previously hinted that the US helped target the drones, claiming that a P-8 Poseidon spy plane had “coincidentally” flown over the Russian bases around the time of the attack.
“Any suggestion the US, the Coalition or our partnered forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and utterly irresponsible,” Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon previously told Business Insider in an email, adding over the phone that the insinuation is “absolute bonkers.”
Moscow on Jan. 1o said that the drone attack originated from the village of Muazzara, which is located in the Idlib province of Syria.
“The recent drone attack on Russian bases in Syria was launched from an area near Idlib, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebel forces,” RT reported, adding that Moscow complained to Turkey about the incident.
However, Russian President Putin said on Jan. 11 that he had spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that he was confident that Turkey had nothing to with it, according to the Associated Press.
“There were provocateurs, but they weren’t the Turks,” Putin said. “We know who they were and how much they paid for that provocation.”
“We often overestimate how much governments in capitals have control over the rebel groups they sponsor,” Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, previously told Business Insider.
While Moscow appears to have now excluded Ankara from its list of perpetrators, it continues to insinuate that the rebels that launched the drones had outside help.
The Russian MoD Defense Ministry spelled it out on Thursday, arguing that the complexity of the drones — which they said required “calculations and flight tests” — prove that whoever launched them were backed by an outside power.
“First of all, it is impossible to develop such drones in an improvised manner. They were developed and operated by experts with special skills acquired in countries that produce and apply systems with UAVs,” according to the MoD. “The fact that terrorists have received assembly technology and programming technology is the evidence that this threat stretches far beyond the Syrian borders.”
Experts agree: Russia is wrong
Business Insider spoke with multiple experts who all said that the drones could have been constructed and operated from a distance of more than 30 miles by rebels without any outside help.
Gorenburg, the CNA research scientist, said Russia was likely “embarrassed” by the attack and the MoD may have needed to attribute the drone strike to “a major power.”
Caitlin Lee, a political scientist at the RAND Corp., told Business Insider that GPS or a camera would be needed to operate a drone at such a distance.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a non-state actor to put GPS software on a drone,” Lee said.
The Russian Defense Ministry even admitted that one of the drones had a camera on it.
Velicovich, the author of “Drone War,” said the drones could have come from ISIS, which has been increasingly active in Syria’s Idlib province.
“Wouldn’t surprise me if this was ISIS’s drone unit, which has been active for a few years now and played with similar technology under their Al Bara Bin Malik brigade,” he said.
Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider the same thing.
“All of the technology — the styrofoam, wood, lawn mower engines — can probably be bought in Idlib for a couple hundred dollars,” Stein said.
“It’s really embarrassing to have a bunch of junk fly through your air defenses and wreak havoc,” he said.
Older U.S. Air Force jets — including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, eyed in recent years for retirement, and the F-15E Strike Eagle — are leading the air war against the Islamic State, statistics show.
U.S. military fighter-attack jets, bombers and drones have dropped more than 67,000 bombs since the 2014 start of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department’s mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, according to information provided by Air Forces Central Command.
Notably, fighter-attack aircraft released more than three times as many weapons as bombers did, the figures show. Drones dropped the least of any category of aircraft.
Aircraft like “the A-10, F-15E, and F-16 are breaking their backs because they are the right platform for the job and providing the right function,” Brian Laslie, an air power historian and author of the book, “The Air Force Way of War,” said in an email to Military.com.
Weapons Released by Aircraft
U.S. aircraft have released a total of 67,333 weapons from Aug. 8, 2014, through May 16, according to the data. While the F-15E released the most, the F-22 Raptor — one of the most advanced stealth fighters — dropped the least.
Here are the figures for the 10 types of U.S. aircraft flying combat sorties: F-15E Strike Eagle, 14,995 weapons released; A-10 Thunderbolt II, 13,856; B-1 Lancer, 9,195; F/A-18 Super Hornets, 8,920; F-16 Fighting Falcon, 7,679; B-52 Stratofortress, 5,041; MQ-1 Predator drone, 2,274; MQ-9 Reaper, 2,188; AV-8B, 1,650; and F-22, 1,535.
Broken down by aircraft type, fighter and attack planes dropped a total of 48,635 weapons, or 72 percent of the total; bombers released 14,236, or 21 percent; and drones dropped 4,462, or 7 percent, according to the statistics.
Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff, a spokeswoman for Air Force Central Command, or AFCENT, cautioned that the numbers released by the command — which includes assets and actions under the Combined Forces Air Component Commander, or CFACC — don’t reflect the “entirety of kinetic activity in OIR,” such as assets belonging to coalition partners or other U.S. components, like the Combined Joint Land Component Commander and Special Operations Joint Task Force.
“The amount of weapons employed by each aircraft varies due to a number of factors, such as time in theater, types of missions (i.e. close air support, air-to-air, escort, interdiction, etc.), ordnance type, etc.,” Atanasoff said in an email last week.
‘Lion’s Share of the Work’
While the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets actually flew the most combat missions, the Air Force’s F-15Es dropped the highest number of bombs, releasing more than one in five of the total amount, according to AFCENT.
As the workhorses of the ISIS fight, the “E” model Strike Eagle is a dual-role jet with the ability to find targets over long ranges and destroy enemy ground positions.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II, the gunship popularly known as the Warthog or simply the ‘Hog’, has released almost as many weapons, albeit with a special type of accounting. Every 100 rounds from the Hog’s 30 mm Avenger gun is counted as one weapon, Atanasoff said.
Laslie said he wasn’t surprised that commanders are turning more frequently to fighters and close-air support aircraft in the campaign against ISIS — an operation estimated to cost roughly $13 billion so far.
After the Vietnam War, the service has operated as “a much more tactical Air Force,” he said. “From El Dorado Canyon in 1986 [campaign in Libya], to Desert Storm in ’91 and the Balkan campaigns of the mid-to-late 90s, tactical assets have done the lion’s share of the work.”
‘See the Airpower’
Atanasoff said the relatively lower strike number for the B-52 doesn’t mean the bomber isn’t as active as other aircraft, but rather that it simply hasn’t been in theater as long. The B-1 left the campaign in early 2016 and was replaced by the B-52 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in February said, “You’re just going to see a continual rotation of both of those weapons systems.”
Col. Daniel Manning, the deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center, last year noted the Stratofortress’ unique ability to stay airborne for a long duration.
“Frankly, we want our partners and the enemy to see the airpower [the B-52] has overhead,” he said at the time. “A B-52 encourages our partner force that we have their back. Being seen is actually a pretty good thing.”
Laslie said, “GPS and stand-off weapons (and permissive environments) have kept the B-52 in the game, but it really is a tactical conflict in OIR.” He said bombers like the B-52 — though strategically useful — “aren’t really optimized for this mission set” in quick, one-off strike sorties.
Hunting for Intel
Similarly, the relatively lower strike numbers for the F-22 stealth fighter and the MQ-1 and MQ-9 drones may be attributed to the fact that they’re often used for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance to relay to other platforms and the Combined Air and Space Operations Center.
“We have refined our targeting process and become more efficient in layering our ISR to uncover targets that have made themselves available to us, which also has facilitated the number of weapons we’ve been able to deliver,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters last week.
Leaders have also “relied on the F-22’s ability to fuse information, understand where our friendly forces are,” to watch, and deconflict with multiple forces on the ground, he said.
At times controllers are using Reapers, Predators or both “combined in a formation” as a more efficient way of using their sensors, according to Lt. Col. Eric Winterbottom, chief of the Commander’s Action Group, U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
Remotely piloted aircraft are likely the first aircraft dictating “strike or no strike calls based off what we’re seeing” from the sensors, Winterbottom said in October. They’re an example of why officials ask for more ISR assets to ease pressure on manned aircraft and to minimize collateral damage from airstrikes.
The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) participated in a cooperative deployment with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships JS Izumo (DH-183), JS Murasame (DD-101) and JS Akebono (DD-108) June 10-12, 2019.
Reagan, Akebono, Izumo and Murasame conducted communication checks, tactical maneuvering drills and liaison officer exchanges designed to address common maritime security priorities and enhance interoperability at sea.
“Having a Japanese liaison officer aboard to coordinate our underway operations has been beneficial and efficient,” said Lt. Mike Malakowsky, a tactical actions officer aboard Ronald Reagan.
“As we continue to operate together with the JMSDF, it makes us a cohesive unit. They are an integral part of our Strike Group that doubles our capability to respond to any situation.”
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships with US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, in background, during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship JS Murasame, foreground, alongside US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Japan Maritime Self- Defense Force ship JS Izumo, left, alongside US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:
Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.
Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.
Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.
(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)
Ukraine has been at war since 2014
Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.
Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.
Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.
Euromaidan was a really big deal
In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.
Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.
Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.
The Ukrainian population is deeply divided
Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.
More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.
Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine
There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.
Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”
Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.
President Volodymyr Zelensky
(Source: Getty Images)
Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian
Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.
The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.
Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.
One of the benefits of being in the military is that the services place a great value on training and education. Throughout a 20-year military career, service members will have the opportunity to attend schools ranging from learning how to jump out of planes all the way to how to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. If we could offer one critique, it is that we don’t have more opportunities to learn across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Recently, I was able to jump the divide and learn from a Navy pilot. I grabbed a new book by Guy “Bus” Snodgrass about his unique experience as an instructor at one of the most premier schools in the military: TOPGUN School. The book, titled TOPGUN’s Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit, is part memoir, part leadership book and an extremely quick read at less than 200 pages. Bus recounts how the lessons he learned as a pilot at TOPGUN helped him throughout his military career, and I also found them worthy of application in my line of work in the Army.
We had the opportunity to catch up to Bus and talk to him about his book and about the important role writing and reading played in his military career.
WATM: TOPGUN’s Top 10 is packed full of valuable and insightful lessons. When you were going through the course and later instructing, did you realize that you were learning these leadership skills or did the realization come after the fact?
Bus: I’ll give you the quintessential TOPGUN response: It depends.
Some lessons, like, “Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy,” and, “Focus on Talent, Passion and Personality,” were apparent while I was serving as a TOPGUN Instructor. Others, like, “Don’t Confuse Activity with Progress” and, “Never Wait to Make a Difference,” started at TOPGUN but also benefit from experiences serving alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders.
To be honest, the seeds for each of these lessons were planted back in high school because of terrific mentors from my church, community, and Scouting.
WATM: In the book, you make the point that the world is full of noise (social media, news media, things in life that don’t matter). How did Top Gun teach you to focus and what role has focus played in your professional career?
Bus: We call this “compartmentalization” in the aviation community — the ability to push aside distractors and focus solely on the task at hand. As I share in the chapter titled, “Stay Calm Under Pressure,” the ability to prioritize and sort fact from fiction is a critical trait, one that saved my life on a number of occasions.
TOPGUN accomplishes this feat by focusing on an awareness regarding the harm caused by distractions. You never have enough time in any given day to accomplish all that is asked of you. You’re flying high-performance fighter jets to the very edge of your capabilities. Like stoicism, you have to learn to master yourself before you can master the events around you.
WATM: Out of all the lessons you learned at TOPGUN, which one was the most valuable to you? And now that you are out of the military, has that one changed?
Bus: “Never Wait to Make a Difference” remains my favorite lesson. We can all accomplish some absolutely incredible results, many on a level well above our pay grade or position in an organization, if we commit to making a positive difference each and every day.
I’d say this lesson is first among equals… and remains so to this day.
WATM: I know you’re an avid reader and have published articles throughout your military career, did those two practices give you a competitive advantage in your military career?
Bus: Yes, I believe so, especially if you desire to make an outsized impact to your organization. A significant number of leaders who rise to senior levels of responsibility have embraced authorship: Gen. H.R. McMaster, Secretary James Mattis, service chiefs, senior enlisted, and many more.
Writing forces you to prioritize and align your thoughts, which also helps you to better understand what you care about and stand for. Publishing, whether in a professional journal or to a wider audience, significantly increases your chances of influencing others. Publishing also teaches us to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s no small task to put your thoughts into the public domain but like any muscle, the more you use it, the easier the exercise becomes.
WATM: Since we’re talking about reading, what book or books have been the most influential to you as a leader?
Bus: Each book can be paired with a situation or an experience in our life.
In high school, I really enjoyed Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Isaac Asimov — large chapter books that engaged my interest and imagination. As I started college, I really enjoyed reading biographies about senior political and military leaders, people faced with tough choices and limited resources. Then, as I gained seniority in uniform, I began to read more “ancient” history.
Reading is the least expensive form of learning. It opens doors into worlds we might never experience ourselves, teaches us lessons paid for by others, and generates increasingly complex ideas as our awareness grows. All these elements help accelerate us along our path to making an ever greater — and wider — impact!
The U.S. Marine Corps is rooted in tradition, discipline, and legacy — both on and off the battlefield. For their 244th birthday, we put together a short but noble list of badass Devil Dogs that you may not have heard of before!
From Marine Raiders in the Pacific to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officers in North Africa to a World Series champion and a Hollywood heartthrob — this list reminds us that Marines are some of the best the United States has to offer.
1. William A. Eddy
William A. Eddy was an enigmatic figure. He was well-traveled, well-spoken, and had knowledge that many Americans during World War II lacked: an immersion in Islamic culture. Eddy was the son of missionaries and spent his childhood in Sidon, Syria (now Lebanon). He later immigrated to the United States and received an education from Princeton University.
At Princeton, Eddy studied 18th-century literature and Islamic customs, and he developed a fascination with “Gulliver’s Travels” from author Jonathan Swift. During World War I, he exchanged academia for bravery when he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the French Fourragère as an intelligence officer. The Battle of Belleau Wood left him severely wounded when an explosive shell peppered his hip, an injury that plagued him for life.
Following the war, Eddy took a job teaching English at American University in Cairo, Egypt, and taught basketball and tennis to students after hours. He wrote the first basketball rulebook in Arabic. In 1941, after professors resigned in protest because of his school curriculum, Eddy said, “College presidency is a job with which I am definitely out of love. I want to be a Marine.” A year later he was commissioned as a major in the Marine Corps, and William Donovan — the founder of the OSS — gave him a cover job as a naval attachè. This cover provided him the access needed to lead all Allied Intelligence across North Africa.
In 1944, he resigned from the Marines to pursue a career that would enhance his love for research, writing, and building relationships. President Franklin Roosevelt asked him to become minister plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia. Since he spent much of his childhood in the Middle East, Eddy was proficient in the Arabic, French, and German languages. All three are spoken in North Africa, which was an asset in his diplomatic career. He once personally acted as a translator between Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on the deck of a naval destroyer in the Suez Canal. At the time, he was the only person who could speak both English and Arabic.
A year later, he served in Yemen to develop a U.S. treaty despite not being allies. From 1946 to 1947, he served as special assistant to the secretary of state and was in charge of research and intelligence. When Eddy wasn’t pioneering rapports with Middle Eastern leaders, he and his wife, Mary, enjoyed birdwatching, skiing in Switzerland, and aimlessly traveling the deserts of Lebanon and Beirut. In 1962, he died from a sudden illness at 66 years old. Eddy left behind a legacy as an Arabian Knight who secured the U.S.-Saudi alliance, as well as a war hero, intelligence officer, teacher, and diplomat.
2. Evans Carlson “Carlson’s Raiders”
Like many Marines, Evans Carlson gained his education and life experience through intense combat. Military historian John Wukovitz referred to Carlson as “an intellectual who loved combat; a high school dropout who quoted Emerson; a thin, almost fragile-looking man who relished fifty-mile hikes; an officer in a military organization that touted equality among officers and enlisted; a kindly individual with the capacity to kill; the product of small New England towns who sought adventure in vast reaches of the world; a man who believed in decency and love and fairness, but whose actions generated bitterness hatred and empathy.”
After running away from his Vermont home at age 14 and lying about his age at 16, Carlson enlisted in the Army in 1910 and matured as a man in a time of war. His duration in the Army was short, though worth noting because his service in the Pacific resulted in many promotions. He advanced to sergeant major and later was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, deploying to Europe just in time for the armistice agreement to be approved. In 1919, he left the Army and mingled around the civilian world before enlisting in the Marine Corps with a reduced rank.
Evans Carlson in uniform with a chest full of medals from his time in 2nd Raider Battalion.
As an officer, Carlson proved himself in Nicaragua with a team of just 12 Marines. They repelled 100 bandits, and he was awarded his first Navy Cross. Later, between 1937 and 1939, he was a witness to the developments of the Chinese army. While living among their forces, Carlson traveled thousands of miles on horseback through difficult terrain. He jotted down his findings and studied the tactics of Japanese foot soldiers. As an author of two books — “The Chinese Army” and “Twin Stars of China” — Carlson was an advocate for the Chinese, who he thought could be an ally in the Pacific against the aggressive Japanese military.
In 1941, he led the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and called his unit the “Kung-ho (Work Together)” or “Gung-ho Battalion.” Others called them Carlson’s Raiders. He valued each man by their merit, not by their title. Carlson utilized his past experiences from his three trips to China to build rapport with allied-native forces and hit the Japanese in shock-and-awe violence.
While aboard two submarines — the USS Nautilus SS-168 and the USS Argonaut SM-1 — traveling from Pearl Harbor, the Marine Raiders were tasked with a secret mission to attack the island of Butaritari (sometimes referred to as Makin Island). Although they trained for this mission using light rubber boats, Murphy’s Law always has a say in real-world operations. At 3:30 AM, the Raiders launched 20 boats from the submarine — 11 men each — into the heavy surf and rain. Some of the equipment, such as mortars and mission essential supplies, were lost at sea because they weren’t tied down.
Adding to the confusion, one soldier accidentally discharged his weapon, which erased the element of surprise. Carlson phoned the submarine on the radio with a SITREP and said, “Everything lousy.” Alongside legendary Chinese Marine Sergeant Victor Maghakian — who served in the famed Shanghai Municipal Police — the Raiders successfully deceived the Japanese into believing this amphibious landing was the main assault, thus drawing attention from Guadalcanal. For his decisive leadership, Carlson received a Gold Star for his second Navy Cross.
In November, the Carlson’s Raiders reached Guadalcanal and hiked 18 miles through dense jungle foliage. This hike was later called Carlson’s patrol or the long patrol and has since reached legendary battlefield status. Led by native scouts — and in just 29 days — 488 Japanese soldiers were killed, 16 Americans killed in action (KIA), and 18 Americans wounded. The success of the operation was largely due to the guerilla warfare tactics the unit employed, the understanding of the Japanese fight-to-the-death mantra, and the effectiveness of small units and their capabilities.
3. Merritt A. Edson
Merritt A. Edson’s path was similar to Evans Carlson’s. Both were commanders of a Marine Raider Battalion — Edson leading the 1st and Carlson leading the 2nd. Prior to World War II, Edson pursued an aviation career but made the transition as a grunt from 1928 to 1929. During that span, he fought 12 separate ground engagements against Nicaraguan bandits, which earned him his first Navy Cross. This is where his nickname, “Red Mike,” was born because he wore a long, red beard during the fighting. This is also where his platoon of specially trained Marines honed a capability they would use during World War II.
Edson is most notably remembered for his heroism on what was later described as “Edson’s Ridge” (Lunga Ridge) near the captured Japanese airfield later renamed Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on Sept. 13-14, 1942. Edson’s Raider Battalion, enforced with two companies from the 1st Parachute Regiment, were hunkered down to rest on a warm August evening. A numerically superior force of 2,500 heavily armed and determined Japanese launched an all-out ambush that initially overwhelmed the estimated 800 Marines. Edson called for his men to push back to avoid being overrun.
Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, Medal of Honor Recipient and Marine Raider during World War II.
Edson told his Marines to prepare for their final stand as they began mowing down the waves of charging Japanese soldiers. They effectively repelled the attack, and Edson’s fierce leadership was awarded with the Medal of Honor. After World War II, Edson was promoted to major general before retiring from the military in 1947. However, his service didn’t end there — he became the first commissioner of the Vermont State Police, the state in which he grew up. The state police uniform was modeled after the Marines, and the troopers were structured in a paramilitary-type ranking system. When Bennington College student Paula Weldon disappeared in 1946, Edson helped establish the Department of Public Safety. The case has remained unsolved, but it was a driving force in creating an organization to effectively solve crimes in a unified manner rather than allocating help from outside state and federal resources.
Edson’s practices and innovation in the police force encouraged other departments and agencies to follow suit. In 1948, the first state police radio system allowed stations and patrol cars to communicate with each other. And in 1949, an Identification and Records Division was established, which ultimately changed the future of policing. After four years of dedicated service, Edson retired in 1951. Four years later, he committed suicide by carbonmonoxide poisoning in the garage of his home in Washington, D.C. At the time, he was working for the National Rifle Association.
4. Sterling Hayden
To his fellow Marines, Hollywood heartthrob Sterling Hayden was known by his alias, John Hamilton. At age 22, Hayden had already secured a master’s certificate in sailing, and his passion was at sea. He used his acting career to fund his adventurous sea voyages. “I just laughed it off at the time,” he said in an interview in 1972. “But a year or so later, when I had finally managed to buy my own ship only to see her irreparably damaged on her first voyage, a few months in Hollywood seemed like a quick and easy way to get enough dough and buy another one.”
Hayden thought his acting chops were lacking and was waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and ask what he was doing there. Others, especially women, saw a 6-foot-4, blonde, and handsome character actor with a soft smile who was easy on the eyes. He married British actress Madeleine Carroll, who was known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” and “Secret Agent.” The pair were a fair match as both had resentments about Hollywood, but for Hayden, who grew up idolizing World War I ace fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, more adventures were waiting. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines during World War II as a secret intelligence and paramilitary organization was being created for which they were in search of Marines with advanced skills.
Sterling Hayden at the helm of the Wanderer.
(Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.)
In order to operate undercover at the OSS, he adopted an alias, which was common practice for OSS officers. As John Hamiliton, Hayden was sent to commando school in Britain to learn parachute skills and tradecraft from the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He then assumed his pastime as a sailor, except this time he was running guns through German-patrolled waters to Josip Broz Tito’s partisan forces in Yugoslavia. From Christmas Eve 1943 to Jan. 2, 1944, Captain Hamilton operated clandestine missions through hazardous waters and scouted enemy positions for reconnaissance. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
When Hamilton first met OSS officers, he said it was “the first time since joining the OSS that I was associated with men who were actually doing a job.” Hamilton later sailed another mission carrying food and nourishment to the Yugoslav people, who were cut off from outside assistance. Captaining a 50-foot Italian fishing vessel, their crew crept through the Adriatic Sea off the Albanian coast completely unarmed. Between February and April, they made 10 trips. Hayden later commented: “By plunging through the Allied minefield late of an afternoon a schooner always had a fighting chance of reaching Vis at dawn—barely in time to be backed into a precipitous cove where she could be hastily camouflaged with pine boughs festooned in her rigging, unloaded the following night, the camouflage repeated, and then driven toward Italy as soon as the weather served.”
In the summer, he was tasked with transporting 40 tons of explosives near the shores of Croatia, but the mission was passed to the SOE at the last minute. When the war ended, Hayden returned to his old habits, sailing the world with legendary seafarer Spike Africa and his children, writing of his adventures in his popular autobiography “Wanderer” and his novel “Voyage,” and acting in popular movies. He appeared in “The Godfather” as the chief of police and in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” and “Dr. Strangelove.” He died in 1986 at age 70.
5. Hank Bauer
Hank Bauer was a New York Yankees all-star who played on the same team as baseball icons Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. One sportswriter described him as having “a face like a clenched fist.” Bauer holds the record for the longest hitting streak in World Series history, with at least one hit in 17 consecutive games. He is also a World Series Champion, both as a player and as a manager for the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite all his success as an athlete, Bauer said his brother, Herman, who was killed in action in France in 1944 during World War II, was the family’s best player. Like his brother, Bauer served during the war, but with the elite unit known as the Marine Raiders. While serving with the 4th Raider Battalion in the Pacific, Bauer’s immune system had a problem with malaria — or that’s what outsiders would tell you, since he contracted and fought the disease 23 times. This was largely due to his stubbornness as he refused to take atabrine pills to prevent it.
Bauer saw action on the islands of New Georgia, located north of Guadalcanal, and he recalled it as “indescribable — the worst [place he had] ever seen.” As the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific, Bauer was wounded by shrapnel on two separate occasions. During the Battle of Okinawa, Bauer was the platoon leader for 64 Marines. Only six of them survived the hellacious fighting. In 32 months of combat, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
Steve Fredericks, one of the Marines in Bauer’s platoon, said, “On Guadalcanal when things quieted down, he had a baseball glove and I’d go out and have a catch with him. You could tell he played, but it didn’t enter my mind [that he could be professional]. When I got back to the states I heard him on the radio and watched him on TV. But it didn’t surprise me; he was built. He was all muscle. He was a strong man.”
Remembering D-Day with World War II Vets in Normandy