The Pentagon says Islamic State militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul are holding civilians in buildings by force and then deliberately attracting coalition strikes.
A Pentagon spokesman on March 30 said the U.S. military will soon release a video showing IS fighters herding people into a building, then firing from the structure to bait coalition forces.
The comments come as the U.S. military responds to criticism from within Iraq and internationally over a separate incident in which as many as 240 civilians are believed to have been killed.
“What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields,” said Colonel Joe Scrocca, a spokesman for the coalition. “Now it’s something much more sinister.”
He said militants are “smuggling civilians so we won’t see them” into buildings and then attempting to draw an attack.
He said he was working on declassifying a video showing militants conducting such an operation.
Human rights group Amnesty International, Pope Francis, and others have urged for better protection for civilians caught in the war, with calls intensifying after a separate March 17 explosion in the Mosul al-Jadida district, killing scores of people.
The U.S. military previously acknowledged that coalition planes probably had a role in the explosion and subsequent building collapse, but it said the ammunition used was insufficient to explain the amount of destruction observed.
Officials said they suspect the building may have been booby-trapped or that the damage may have been caused by the detonation of a truck bomb.
U.S.-backed forces are attempting to push IS fighters out of west Mosul after having liberated the less-populated eastern part of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Scrocca estimated that some 1,000 militants remain in west Mosul, their last stronghold in Iraq, down from 2,000 when the assault was launched on February 19.
They are facing about 100,000 Iraqi government forces, he added.
SpaceX is one giant grain-silo launch closer to reaching Mars.
The aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, launched and landed an early prototype of a potentially revolutionary rocket system called Starship at 7:57 p.m. ET on Monday. The flight occured at SpaceX’s expanding rocket factory, development, and test site in Boca Chica, a relatively remote region at the southeastern tip of Texas.
“Mars is looking real,” Musk tweeted shortly after the flight of roughly 492 feet (150 meters) into the air, later adding: “Progress is accelerating.”
SPadre.com, which has a camera trained on SpaceX’s launch site from about 6 miles away on South Padre Island, captured the entire launch from start-to-finish with a 24-hour live feed on YouTube. In the background audio of a livestream hosted by NASASpaceFlight.com (which caught yet another view with a different camera and angle), audible cheers could be heard coming from on-site SpaceX employees and contractors.
The clip below shows a profile of the whole flight from SPadre‘s feed.
In the movie, the prototype takes off using a single Raptor rocket engine, translates across the launch site, deploys a set of short landing legs, and touches down on a concrete pad.
Musk later tweeted that Starship’s next set of landing legs “will be ~60% longer” and that a version farther down the line “will be much wider taller” like the legs of a Falcon 9 rocket booster, “but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces auto-leveling” — in other words, optimized to landing on the moon or Mars.
If Starship and its Super Heavy rocket booster end up being fully reusable, Musk has said, the system may reduce the cost of launching anything to space by about 1,000-fold and enable hypersonic travel around Earth.
But first, SpaceX has to see if its core designs for Starship work. To that end, the company is moving briskly to build, test, and launch prototypes.
Monday’s “hop” flight — Musk said ahead of the flight that SpaceX was targeting an altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) — represents the first flight of any full-scale Starship hardware. It’s also a crucial step toward informing future prototypes and, ultimately, launches that fly Starships into orbit around Earth.
SpaceX had hoped to attempt a flight of SN5 on July 27, but Hurricane Hanna damaged a component that had to be fixed, Musk said. A previous notice to airmen, or NOTAM, suggested the company would try to fly SN5 on Sunday — the same day as its attempt to land two NASA astronauts in the Gulf of Mexico — but the launch window came and went. (SpaceX’s Demo -2 was an historic test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship, a vehicle developed with about .7 billion in NASA funding.)
Prototyping toward Mars
The above photo shows the SN5 prototype from above during a test-firing of its engine on July 30.
SN5 is the latest of several full-scale Starship prototypes that SpaceX has built in Texas. The previous versions have either crumpled during tests or, as was the case on May 29, catastrophically exploded.
Each failure has taught SpaceX valuable lessons to inform design and material changes — tweaks that Musk says are already being worked into SN6, SN7, and SN8 prototypes, which are in various stages of assembly within the company’s expanding and bustling work yards in South Texas.
The steel vehicles don’t have wing-like canards or nosecones attached, in case something goes wrong in their earliest phases of testing, so they look more like flying fuel tanks or grain silos than rocket ships.
However, as last year’s test launch of an early Starship prototype called Starhopper showed, the flights of even experimental vehicles (shown above) can impress: On August 27, Starhopper soared to a similar height as SN5, translated across a launch site, and landed on a nearby concrete pad.
SpaceX obtained a launch license from the FAA to send Starship prototypes on a “suborbital trajectory,” meaning the experimental rocket ships could reach dozens of miles above Earth before returning and landing. However, it’s uncertain if SpaceX eventually plans to launch SN5 on such an ambitious flight path after Monday’s “hop.”
The company couldn’t attempt more ambitious flights until late August at the soonest, though. On July 23, SpaceX asked the FCC for permission to communicate with prototypes flying as high as 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) within the next seven months. The earliest date noted on the request, which is still pending, is August 18.
Musk said after the flight of SN5 that the next phase of testing won’t fly prototypes very high, at least initially.
“We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
SpaceX is also pursuing a launch license for full-scale, orbital-class Starship-Super Heavy vehicles. Musk hopes Starship will launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022, send a private crew around the moon in 2023, return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024, and even begin sending people to Mars the same year.
Less than 900 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients are serving in the military, and the Pentagon has no idea what will happen to them.
President Donald Trump officially declared an end Sept. 5 to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program initiated by the Obama administration to allow illegals to remain and work in the country without fear of deportation, but what that rollback means for the military is still up in the air. The program’s protections will begin being phased out in six months, but DACA recipients whose permits expire before March 2018 can renew for another two-year period.
For now, the Pentagon is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to find out what this policy change will mean for DACA recipients currently in the military. Out of 800,000 DACA recipients, the Pentagon said that less than 900 are currently serving in the military.
“There are less than 900 individuals currently serving in the military, or have signed contracts to serve, who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival authorization,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “These individuals are part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Pilot Program. The Department of Defense is coordinating with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security regarding any impact a change in policy may have for DACA recipients. The Department defers to our colleagues at DHS on questions related to immigration, naturalization, or citizenship.”
Those with DACA status have been allowed to enlist in the military since 2014 through the MAVNI program.
A total of 10,400 immigrants who have made it through MAVNI have received US citizenship, but MAVNI has been put on hold as of last year.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post published Sept. 4, former Obama administration Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if DACA ends, soldiers who are part of the program could be deported immediately. Panetta argued that GOP Sen. John McCain should allow the bipartisan Dream Act to be added to the annual defense bill, which would give illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship.
The unmanned tank couldn’t operate as far away from its controllers as expected, had problems firing its 30mm gun, and couldn’t fire while moving, amid other problems, according to Popular Mechanics, citing the Defence Blog.
But in Syria, it could only be operated from about 984 to 1,640 feet from its operators around high-rise buildings, the Defence Blog reported, citing reports from the 10th all-Russian scientific conference “Actual problems of protection and security” in St. Petersburg.
The robot tank’s controller also randomly lost control of it 17 times for up to one minute and two times for up to an hour and a half, Defence Blog reported.
Uran-9 combat unmanned ground vehicle
The Uran-9 is heavily armed with four 9M120-1 Ataka anti-tank guided missile launchers, six 93 millimeter-caliber rocket-propelled Shmel-M reactive flamethrowers, one 30-millimeter 2A72 automatic cannon, and one 7.62-millimeter coaxial machine gun.
But its 30-millimeter 2A72 automatic cannon delayed six times and even failed once, Defence Blog reported, and it could only acquire targets up to about 1.24 miles away, as opposed to the expected four miles.
Apparently the tank’s optical station was seeing “multiple interferences on the ground and in the airspace in the surveillance sector,” Defence Blog reported.
The unmanned tank even had issues with its chassis and suspension system, and required repairs in the field, Defence Blog reported.
“The Uran-9 seems to have proven to be more about novelty than capability, but that doesn’t mean these tests are without value,” SOFREP reported. “In time (and with funding) a successor to the Uran-9 may one day be a battlefield force to be reckoned with.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 2015, a new generation of lieutenants arrived at Army units. They arrived unannounced with no notice to their receiving commands. These officers are technology-based, possess an innate ability to find information, and are closely aware of the geopolitical environment. While this surge of new thoughts and ideas could be invigorating to the organization, it is more likely that these generational differences will create personality conflicts between senior leaders and these new officers. Some senior officers may not recognize their inherent strengths and only highlight their reliance on social networking and lack of concrete experience.
While academic research continues to explore the impact of differences between the societal generations, it is possible to understand how generational divides have influenced the Army’s officer corps. Due to the strict hierarchical structure of the Army and “time-in-grade” requirements for promotions, the officer corps naturally segregates along generational lines. These prerequisites produce officer cohorts that often share similar societal experiences and may develop similar personality traits.
Currently, there are four generations operating in the Army, individually banded to a specific set of ranks. Each of these generations has different and specific perspectives shaped by their generational experiences. For example, some current general officers tend to strongly value organizational loyalty, colonels and lieutenant colonels prefer to empower junior officers and NCOs, majors and captains are comfortable with change, and the new lieutenants have vast digital networks that help them gain context within the strategic environment.
Acknowledging that there are fundamental personality differences within the entire chain of command is important to create an atmosphere that enables trust and growth. In order to optimize effectiveness, officers must accept that generational differences exist in the Army, understand how those differences currently influence officer interactions and recognize how to leverage the strengths of each generation of officers.
Generational Differences in the Army
A generational label is a brand given to a societal cohort born between a set of birth years. Since these generations experience the same social influences, successes, tragedies, and technologies during the formative years of their lives, they often develop a shared societal personality and view of the world. How old someone is when he or she experiences a key national event can have a profound impact on their personality.
Current studies in neurodevelopment show that visual and emotional experiences during the teenage years are molding and shaping neural brain connections (Hensch, 2016). When the events of World War II, Kennedy’s assassination, and 9/11 happened, teenagers observed and processed them much different than their parents and grandparents. The summation of these events shapes and influences each of these cohorts into a shared identity and culture. It becomes so pervasive, that psychologists label these cohorts by both birth year and personality type, and thus the terms Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials become common societal lexicon.
Without analysis, one might assume that the Army avoids societal generational issues within the officer ranks. With the physical, mental, and societal requirements needed for admittance into the US Army, less than 30% of American youths are eligible for military service (Christeson, 2009). Given these limitations, less than 0.03% of the US population will wear a US Army uniform, and only about 15% of that small amount will become an officer (Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, 2015).
The military’s strict admission standards suggest that the officer corps does not represent a cross-section of society, and in turn, a cross-section of societal generations. In 2000, Dr. Leonard Wong conducted extensive interviews of the officer corps and noted that “distinctions between Boomers and Xers are not as glaring because self-selection into the Army serves to homogenize the population.”
However, Dr. Wong (2000) did find that generational differences still emerged. Due to the hierarchical structure of the Army, officer’s promotions are based on performance and time of service. These factors sectionalize the Army’s leaders by age and band them to a specific set of ranks. While a civilian organization may hire a Millennial to serve as a manager of Generation X subordinates, the Army will not directly hire someone to serve as a senior officer. Based on these formal personnel practices, the current Army typically has Baby Boomers as senior generals, Gen X-ers as lieutenants colonel to two-star generals, Millennials as captains to lieutenants colonel, and the iGeneration as cadets to lieutenants.
Impacts of Generations on the Officer Corps
After recognizing that generational differences permeate the force, it is important to understand how these differences influence officer behavior. The effects of generational personalities ripple through the officer corps as each level of command interacts differently with those above and below. Due to the hierarchical structure of the military and the low speed of change, programs enacted by senior leaders can prevail for decades. In fact, aspects of programs implemented by officers born in the 19th century still persist in the Army today. Therefore, in order to capitalize on the strengths of each generation, there should be a better understanding of how the officer corps evolved over the years. While there are currently four generations of officers serving in uniform, a review of the earlier officer generations helps fully understand the rolling ebb and flow of the officer corps.
Lost Generation to Silent Generation
The first major influence on the US Army officer corps was the Lost Generation. These officers were born from 1883 to 1899 and were lieutenants and captains in World War I, field grades in the inter-war period, and general officers during World War II and the Korean War. As children, these officers lived through a period of economic and political reform as the United States struggled with worker strikes and intense political corruption. As lieutenants, they experienced the brutal battlefields of World War I and returned disillusioned from the horrors of the war. Their disillusionment colored their experiences so strongly that Ernest Hemingway labeled the generation as “Lost” because the veterans seemed confused and aimless (Hynes, 1990). In the interwar period, these officers witnessed the 1920 National Defense Act cut the Army to a skeleton shell (U.S. Congress, 1940). With little to no troops in their commands, they focused on education and broadening opportunities. The best of these officers attended the prestigious Command and General Staff College and Army War College (Yarger, 1996). As general officers, these officers quickly mobilized a large US Army, developed new combined arms doctrine, and ultimately won a protracted war across two fronts (House, 2002). Ultimately, these officers witnessed the brutality of war on all its fronts and responded to the call to rid the world of great evil. These officers primed America to move into a new era of development and safety. Their new problem, it seemed, was constraining their overly ambitious G.I. Generation subordinates.
The G.I. Generation, also known as the Greatest Generation, was born from 1900 to 1924. These officers were lieutenants and captains in World War II, field grade officers in Korea, and generals during the Vietnam Conflict. As children, they received an increased emphasis on education and were members of the newly formed boy scouts, learning “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values” (Townley, 2007). Their civic-mindedness bloomed during “The Great War” and they steeled their resolve through the Great Depression. As young officers during World War II, they saw the might of collective organization and teamwork; leading to their mantra of “bigger is better” (Howe and Strauss, 2007). Leaving the war victorious, these officers learned that with tenacity and teamwork, anything is possible. When these officers entered the battlefield of the Korean War, they were ready for the same audacious fight they won five years earlier. However, they commanded battalions that were undermanned and under-equipped for a protracted war on the austere Korean peninsula (Fehrenbach, 1963). These officers arrived home with no fanfare for their sacrifice, a stark contrast to their arrival home from World War II. While these officers sought to understand their Cold War role, their civilian peers flourished in America’s economic boom. By the arrival of Vietnam, the GI Generation occupied the senior positions within the Army, and they disliked the lack of civic support from younger generations (Howe and Strauss, 1992). They believed that their hard work and struggles paved a golden path and the public critique and disobedience from subordinates only disgraced their sacrifice.
The Silent Generation was born between 1925 and 1942. These officers were lieutenants and captains in the Korean War, field grade officers during Vietnam, and generals during the Cold War. As children, this generation saw their parents struggle through the Great Depression and then depart for World War II. In college and the workplace, they found that the returning G.I. Generation veterans received preferential treatment and immediately assumed leadership positions in organizations. As lieutenants during the Korean War, they performed admirably on the tactical battlefield. However, the war’s stalemate and lack of homecoming contributed to these officer’s feelings of being part of the “forgotten war” (McCraine and Hyer, 2000). Due to the shadow of their G.I. Generation leaders and the rejection from the Korean War, these officers valued inclusion, acceptance, and conformity (Howe and Strauss, 2007). This was most poignant when Silent Generation officers became field grades during the Vietnam Conflict. As mid-level leaders, they were inclined to mediate between some overbearing G.I. Generation generals and some radical Baby Boomer company grade officers. Ever the peace-maker, the Silent Generation officer worked to appease both sides and succeeded in appeasing neither (Howe and Strauss, 2007). Having to define their own boundaries and identity in a G.I. Generation world, the Silent Generation officer became masters of a process-driven society. Showcased with the Total Quality Management program, these officers strove to maximize efficiency from the grandiose system they received from their G.I. Generation leaders (Department of Defense 1988). As general officers, they struggled to understand why Boomer field grade officers did not appreciate or understand their process-driven approach to problem-solving and leader development.
Baby Boomer: Current 3 and 4 Star Generals (tail end of the generation)
The Baby Boomer officers, or Boomers, were born from 1943 to 1960. These officers were company grade officers during the Vietnam Conflict, field grade officers during the Cold War and Desert Storm, and generals during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As children, Boomers received the windfall of economic growth in America (U.S. Department of State, 2011). While the radio and television brought the horrors of the Korean Conflict to their living room, their parents shielded them from the reality of this war (Spock,
1946). As Boomers became teenagers, the nation emerged into an age of optimism. They watched as their parents placed men on the moon and witnessed women and African Americans fight for equality. Early-stage Boomer lieutenants left to fight a war in Vietnam and came back disgruntled and unappreciated (Karestan, Stellman J., Stellman S., Sommer, 2003). They returned to a nation that cursed their service and devalued their participation in an unpopular war. As field grades in the post-Vietnam era, they witnessed their Army bottom out on readiness and give way to the arrival of zero defects, careerism, and new heights of micromanagement into the military (Jones, 2012). However, with the election of President Reagan, this same army rapidly grew and modernized. Vowing to learn from the failures of Vietnam, early Boomer colonels and brigadier generals helped write Air Land Battle Doctrine and tested its tenants at the newly formed National Training Center (Meyer, Ancell, Mahaffey, 1995). Their hard work paid off during Operation Desert Storm when Boomer officers led the battalions and brigades that routed the 4th largest army in the World (Hoffman, 1989). At the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, senior Boomer officers had the ability to see the fight unfold and talk to the tactical officer on the ground. Often their tendency to micromanage proved too great, and junior Generation X officers rebuked their tinkering at the tactical level.
Generation X: LTC-2 Star General
Generation X officers were born between 1961 and 1980. While some of these officers served in Operation Desert Storm and Grenada, most were company grade officers during Bosnia and the initial phases of OIF and OEF. As children, Generation X felt the impact of a divided Boomer household. Due to an increase in divorce rates and dual working parents, they were generally independent and self-supporting early in life (Zemke, Raines, Filipczak, 2000), also known as latchkey kids. As teenagers, they experienced social failure on multiple fronts between Presidential resignation, economic crisis, and the Challenger Explosion. When Generation X officers entered the Army, a majority of them did not share the same work ethic as their Boomer field grade officers. These junior officers often failed to adapt to the 24/7 work attitude of their leaders, as many felt the Army was simply a way to make a living and not a lifestyle (Wong, 2000). In the mid-1990s, their perspective was reinforced when a downsizing Army laid off many Boomer and Generation X officers. As the Army entered direct combat engagements in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, their experience and commitment to the organization grew. Their independent personality thrived as they controlled large sections of the battlefield and even served as interim mayors of towns (Crane Terrill, 2003; Cerami Boggs, 2007). However, as Generation X officers occupy the senior ranks, they struggle with how to connect to the Millennial junior field grade and senior company grade officers that work for them.
Millennial: CPT- new LTC
Millennial officers were born between 1981 and 1993. These officers were lieutenants and captains in Iraq and Afghanistan and sustained a bulk of their leadership development during these conflicts. As children, Millennials experienced a resurgent focus on family values and a rebuking of the divorce culture their parents endured (Amato Keith, 1991). A key moment of their cultural development was the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers, as many were teenagers during this attack (Ames, 2013). They watched the terror live on television and then witnessed America and the World band together to take action. While in high school and college, Millennials experienced the rapid growth of the internet, instant reporting, and the birth of social media. When they entered the military, these officers found an Army that was fighting two protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As currently serving company commanders and junior field grades, Millennials have a direct impact on the newest generation of officers.
A typical iGeneration officer was born after 1993 and started to arrive at U.S. Army units in 2015. When these officers were born, home-based internet became mainstream and connected people through email, chat rooms, and websites (Coffman Odlyzko, 2001). This invention influenced the way they learned, processed information, and even interacted (Anderson Rainie, 2010). As an adolescent, they watched the 9/11 attacks unfold live on television and struggled to understand the fear and uncertainty that gripped the nation in the aftermath (Ames, 2013). As teenagers, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites were mainstay hangouts among their friends. Due to witnessing a terror attack, financial ruin, and world power plays, they are naturally guarded and more pessimistic about America and the future (Doherty, 2105). With the invention of smartphones, information was instantly available and they had the ability to answer any question, interact online with any number of their social circles, and enjoy constant streaming access to world news and current events. With this capability also emerged an environment where companies were marketing to them around the clock. One side effect to this is their inherent distrust of the ‘corporate narrative’ and they prefer to follow the advice and recommendations of the ‘average person’. This is evident in the explosion of YouTube stars that do videos of unboxing, product reviews, movie recaps, and even video game players. Technology is second hand to these officers and through social networking or data mining, they possess an innate ability to find or crowdsource information. Even with unprecedented access to information, these instant updates on world events may also lead to a false t awareness of the strategic environment.
Leverage the iGeneration
Understanding the context and dynamics of the officer corps creates an atmosphere of growth and development. With context, officers understand why Boomer generals value organizational loyalty, Generation X senior field grades and generals prefer to “power down,” Millennial officers are comfortable with change, and iGeneration lieutenants that possess a natural ability to build large social networks to gather information and learn. Ultimately, self-awareness is a leader’s ability to understand their own personality, the personality of others, and most importantly, how their personality affects those around them. Based on the cohort study analysis above, officers should have an insight of themselves, their leaders, and their subordinates. This collective self-awareness is a vital recognition of strengths and weaknesses. The average age for an Army officer is currently 35 years old. This age is the border period between a Generation X officer and a Millennial officer. In the next five years, approximately 15% of all officers will be an iGeneration officer and nearly 65% of the officer corps will be of the two youngest generational groups (Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Military community and Family Policy, 2015). Given these demographics, the force is primed for institutional changes that maximize the iGeneration lieutenant’s strengths while leveraging the experience and knowledge of the Boomer and Gen X senior leaders. The context in which an iGeneration lieutenant developed influences how they learn. Between social media, Youtube, and video games, these officers are comfortable with reading, watching, and even interacting with history, science, and current events in an online environment. This information access developed a cohort of officers that have little concrete experience in the world, but an ability to virtually mine anything they need to know. What they lack, however, is the critical analysis needed to filter and understand this information. Leaders should recognize these dynamics and present their experiences in a way that appeals to this new generation. New lieutenants will best learn by observing, researching, and collaborating. This style is less receptive to directive orders and more motivated through senior mentorship. This does not mean that these officers are not effective followers. Instead, they prefer to take the problem at hand, brainstorm ideas, and view it from multiple perspectives to gain consensus on the best solution.
Leaders at the tactical to strategic level should consider these traits while developing organizational programs. Tactical commanders can use the iGeneration’s unique learning style to develop critical analysis by encouraging these officers to critically think and write. Likewise, senior Army leaders could consider expanding the acceptance of more junior officers into information operations and operational support career fields. Operating in these functional areas will leverage these officer’s strengths and can promote and grow the Army capabilities as a whole. Overall, the inclusion of these new officers in multiple arenas of the US Army will promote growth and development for the ability to fight on a twenty-first-century battlefield.
There are currently four different generations of officers within the Army and these generations arrange themselves across the Army’s hierarchical rank structure because of “time-in-grade” requirements for promotions. Leaders should understand that these generational differences impact those around them. Over the last seven generations of officers, these differences often perpetuated a cycle of misunderstanding. Recognizing how these misunderstandings can occur, officers should be aware of personality traits and how leaders and subordinates will interpret these traits. Leaders should also recognize that a new generation of lieutenants is arriving in the Army. These officers are technology-based and have a vast social network that can span various nations and cultures, granting them a unique perspective into the strategic environment. They possess an unparalleled ability to virtually mine the internet but lack the critical analysis to understand it. With proper self-awareness within the officer corps, leaders can effectively develop programs for this emerging generation of lieutenants. Senior officers should develop more programs that develop the critical thinking and analytical abilities of these officers while leveraging their strength and understanding of technology and social networking. By better understanding the Army’s generational divides, officers can ensure that the Army remains on the leading edge of technology, leadership, and war-fighting capability.
France, one of Europe’s two nuclear powers, said on Feb. 5, 2019, that it had fired a nuclear-capable missile from a fighter jet, while the US and Russia feud over the death of a nuclear treaty that saw Europe purged of most of its weapons of mass destruction during the hair-triggered days of the Cold War.
“These real strikes are scheduled in the life of the weapons’ system,” said a spokesman for the French air force, Col. Cyrille Duvivier, according to Reuters. “They are carried out at fairly regular intervals, but remain rare because the real missile, without its warhead, is fired.”
A French Dassault Rafale.
France also operates a fleet of ballistic-missile submarines that can fire some of its 280 some nuclear warheads, but the subs move in secrecy and don’t provide the same messaging effect as more visible fighter jets.
France’s announcement of a nuclear test run came after the US and Russia fell out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which barred both countries from building nuclear missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. Signed in 1987, it saw Europe and Russia remove an entire class of nuclear warheads from the continent in one of the most successful acts of arms control.
But while France, as part of NATO, sided with the US, it has increasingly sought to distance itself from the US in foreign-policy and military affairs, and increasing the visibility of its nuclear arsenal is one way to assert independence.
France flexes its nuclear might against Russia — and the US
Representative government has been a luxury that relatively few people have enjoyed throughout human history.
And while the vast majority of dictators fall short of Hitler- or Stalin-like levels of cruelty, history is rife with oppressors, war criminals, sadists, sociopaths, and morally complacent individuals who ended up as unelected heads of government — to the tragic detriment of the people and societies they ruled.
Here’s a look at 22 brutal dictators that you may not have heard of.
Francisco Solano Lopez (Paraguay, 1862-1870)
Last picture of Francisco Solano López, 1870. Wikimedia
After that war concluded, Brazil, Argentina, and the winning faction in Uruguay secretly agreed to a plan in which they would annex half of Paraguay’s territory.
Lopez rejected the peace terms offered by the “triple alliance,” incurring a full-on invasion.
What followed was a devastating conflict in which an overmatched Lopez conscripted child soldiers, executed hundreds of his deputies (including his own brother), incurred steep territorial losses, and triggered an eight-year Argentine military occupation.
Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy had been an ally of Nazi Germany, collaborating with Adolf Hitler’s regime in exchange for assistance in restoring Hungarian control over lands the country had lost as a result of World War I.
Horthy began attempting to chart an independent path from the Nazis as the German war effort flagged in 1944 and largely refused to deport the country’s Jews — triggering a Nazi invasion and Döme Sztójay’s installation as the country’s puppet leader even while Horthy officially remained in power.
Sztójay, who had been Hungary’s ambassador to Nazi Germany for the decade leading up to World War II, was captured by American troops after the war and executed in Hungary in 1946.
Ante Pavelic (1941-1945)
Ante Pavelic started out as a politician who was opposed to the centralization of what later became officially known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
After Yugoslavia’s king declared himself dictator in 1929, Pavelic fled the country in order to organize an ultra-nationalist movement called Ustaše.
The Ustaše was dedicated to creating an independent Croatia, and sometimes resorted to terrorism. Ultimately, the group assassinated King Alexander in 1934.
After Axis forces took over Yugoslavia in the 1941, Pavelic took control as the head of the Independent State of Croatia (or NDH).
The country was nominally ruled by the Ustaše, but was essentially a puppet state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Under Pavelic’s leadership, the regime persecuted Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Romani living in the NDH.
After Germany was defeated in 1945, Pavelic went into hiding, and eventually escaped to Argentina. He died in Spain in 1959.
Mátyás Rákosi (1945-1956)
Mátyás Rákosi. Hungarian Government
Mátyás Rákosi became the communist leader of Hungary after consolidating political power in 1945.
Rákosi managed to stick around for a bit, until the USSR officially decided he was a liability.
Moscow removed him from power in 1956 in order to appease the Yugoslav leader, Mashal Tito.
Khorloogiin Choibalsan (Mongolia, 1930s-1952)
After several meetings with Stalin, Choibalsan adopted the Soviet leader’s policies and methods and applied them to Mongolia.
He created a dictatorial system, suppressing the opposition and killing tens of thousands of people.
Later in the 1930s, he “began to arrest and kill leading workers in the party, government, and various social organizations in addition to army officers, intellectuals, and other faithful workers,” according to a report published in 1968 cited in the Historical Dictionary of Mongolia.
In late 1951, Choibalsan went to Moscow in order to receive treatment for kidney cancer. He died the following year.
Enver Hoxha (Albania, 1944-1985)
Albania’s communist dictator feuded with both the Soviet Union and China before promoting a ruinous policy of national self-reliance that turned his country into a Balkan version of modern-day North Korea.
One of the most controversial figures in post-colonial African history, Ian Smith, a decorated fighter pilot during World War II, led the secession of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the British empire in 1965.
His aim was to preserve white rule in an overwhelmingly black colony.
Although whites were less than 4% of Rhodesia’s population, Smith’s government survived nearly 15 years of international isolation and civil war.
He agreed to a power-sharing accord that elevated Robert Mugabe to prime minister in 1980.
Although sometimes lauded for his willingness to surrender power — something that meant Rhodesia was liberated from minority rule some 15 years before neighboring South Africa — he still led a racially discriminatory regime for well over a decade.
Ramfis Trujillo (Dominican Republic, May 1961-October 1961)
Ramfis’s father, the more infamous Rafael Trujillo, ruled the Dominican Republic for over 30 years.
His oldest son, who was made a colonel at the age of 4, only spent a few months as the Caribbean nation’s dictator — but he used them to mount a brutal reprisal campaign against those he suspected of assassinating his father on May 30, 1960.
An “accomplished torturer” and inveterate playboy, when Ramfis left the Dominican Republic by yacht to go into exile in Spain in late 1961, he reportedly took his father’s coffin with him.
In March 1971, Khan ordered his army to crack down on a burgeoning separatist movement in Eastern Pakistan.
“Operation Searchlight” targeted Bengali nationalists and intellectuals and produced a wave of 10 million refugees that convinced India to intervene in Pakistan’s civil war, setting the stage for Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan the following year.
During a high-level meeting in February 1971, Khan was recorded saying to “kill three million of them,” in reference to the separatists and their supporters.
By the end of the year, hundreds of thousands of people were dead — and Khan had been deposed as president and sent into internal exile. He died in Pakistan in 1980.
Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio (Guatemala, 1970-1974)
Carlos Arana Osorio was one of the several military rulers who were president in Guatemala during the volatile years following a 1954 coup.
During his presidency, he amped up government efforts to subdue armed rebels and persecuted “student radicals,” workers groups, and political opponents.
Guatemala went had military presidents through 1986, but the country’s civil war continued until December 1996.
Jorge Rafael Videla (Argentina, 1976-1981)
Military officer Jorge Rafaél Videla took over Argentina during a coup d’état in 1976.
At the time, the country was straddled with a corrupt government and a battered economy, and was “besieged by attacks from guerrillas and death squads,” with many Argentines “welcoming Videla’s move, hoping the three-man military junta would put an end to the violence,” according to Biography.com.
Videla tried to bring back economic growth via free-market reforms, and was “moderately successful.” However, he closed the courts and gave legislative powers to a nine-man military commission.
His government conducted a notorious “‘dirty war,’ during which thousands of people considered to be subversive threats were abducted, detained and murdered,” among them intellectuals, journalists, and educators.
The official estimate of people killed during his presidency is 9,000, but some sources believe the number is between 15,000 and 30,000.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 1985, but pardoned in 1990. He was once again put on trial in 2010, and received another life sentence. He died in prison in 2013.
Francisco Macías Nguema (Equatorial Guinea, 1968-1979)
Francisco Macías Nguema. Wikimedia image.
The first president of Equatorial Guinea was a paranoid kleptocrat who declared himself leader for life, kept much of the national treasury in suitcases under his bed, and killed or exiled an estimated one-third of the former Spanish colony’s population of 300,000.
Nguema’s hatred of his country’s educated classes led to comparisons with Cambodia’s Pol Pot.
Extensive forced-labor programs brought to mind other historical cruelties as well: One visitor to the country during Nguema’s rule described it as “the concentration camp of Africa — a cottage-industry Dachau.”
Nguema was executed after his nephew, Teodoro Obiang, overthrew him in a 1979 coup.
Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea, 1979-present)
Teodoro Obiang overthrew his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema, the first president of Equatorial Guinea, in 1979.
In 1995, oil was discovered in Equatorial Guinea, which provided Obiang with an almost limitless means of self-enrichment.
Theodore Sindikubwabo (Rwanda, April 1994-July 1994)
Theodore Sindikubwabo bears little personal responsibility for the organization of the Rwandan genocide, which was largely the project of hardline army officers and government officials like Theoneste Bagasora.
But when Rwandan president Juvenal Habyrimana’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, Sindikubwabo was the man that the genocide’s architects selected as Rwanda’s head of state.
The former pediatrician was the official head of a government that perpetrated the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people.
Far from attempting to stop the bloodbath, Sindikubwabo appeared in Cayahinda, Rwanda, on April 20, 1994, to “to thank and encourage” militants carrying out the genocide, and to “promise he would send soldiers to help local people finish killing the Tutsi who were barricaded” in a local church, according to Human Rights Watch.
Sindikubwabo fled into neighboring Zaire after the forces of current Rwandan president Paul Kagame invaded the country during the closing days of the genocide.
He died in exile in 1998.
Than Shwe (Myanmar, 1992-2011)
Than Shwe was the leader of the ruling military junta in Myanmar (Burma) and had been criticized and sanctioned by Western countries for human-rights abuses.
Up to 1 million people were reportedly sent to “satellite zones” and “labor camps” under his rule.
There was virtually no free speech in the country, and “owning a computer modern or fax [was] illegal, and anyone talking to a foreign journalist [was] at risk of torture or jail,” the Guardian reported in 2007.
Although Shwe stepped down in 2011, The Wall Street Journal reports that he “still exerts considerable leverage behind the scenes.”
Most recently, he pledged support to his former foe, Aung San Suu Kyi, as the Myanmar’s “future leader” — even though during his rule, the country’s Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader was kept under house arrest.
Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea, 1991-present)
Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 partly because of President Isaias Afwerki’s leadership in the armed struggle against Ethiopia’s brutal communist regime, which he helped overthrow.
Over the next 25 years, Afwerki built one of the world’s most terrorizing dictatorships.
Eritrea’s internal oppression has led to over 380,000 people fleeing out of a population of less than 7 million — despite the lack of active armed conflict in the country.
Afwerki’s foreign policy has been equally problematic.
A 1998 dispute with Ethiopia over the demarcation of the countries’ border quickly escalated into the last full-scale interstate war of the 20th century, with Afwerki bearing at least partial blame for failing to defuse a conflict in which an estimated 100,000 people were killed.
Marine Corps Capt. Daniel Kult, Sgt. John Dietrick and Pfc. Alexander Meinhardt, from left to right, of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, pose at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on May 4, 2020.
Three Marines who sprang into action to restrain a hostile and disruptive fellow passenger are now being recognized by their unit commanding officer for their bravery and quick thinking.
The incident happened Monday on a flight from Tokyo to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. The three North Carolina-based Marines, all assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, were Capt. Daniel Kult, Sgt. John Dietrick and Pfc. Alexander Meinhardt. They had been traveling back to the U.S. for various reasons, about halfway through a six-month Unit Deployment Program pump in Okinawa.
During the flight, according to a Marine Corps news release, a passenger barricaded himself inside one of the plane’s bathrooms and loudly began to make what officials described as threatening comments.
“While watching a movie during my flight from Japan to Texas, I started to hear screaming coming from the restroom on board,” Dietrick, an infantry assault section leader from Mechanicsville, Virginia, said in a statement. “When I took off my headphones, I heard a man sounding very distraught and screaming from the bathroom.”
The Marines then moved quickly, according to the release. While a flight attendant got the door unlocked, the three men grabbed the passenger and used flex ties to bind him. They took him back to a seat and stayed with him to make sure he remained restrained for the rest of the flight.
“I knew I had to step in when he became a danger to others and himself,” said Meinhardt, a mortarman from Sparta, Wisconsin. “I didn’t think twice about helping restrain him through the rest of the flight.”
Kult, an infantry officer from Coons Rapids, Iowa, credited the Marines’ quick, decisive actions to their training.
“We just assessed the situation and acted,” he said. “Working with the flight crew, we got the door open and from there worked together to subdue him. We didn’t take time to talk it over. We just got ready and did what we needed to help.”
In light of the episode, the plane was rerouted to the Los Angeles International Airport. The problem passenger was disembarked and sent to a mental health facility for evaluation, according to the release. The incident will be investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, officials said.
Of the bravery of the three Marines, their battalion commanding officer simply said he was not surprised.
“I happen to know all three of them, two of them well, and they are all what I would call ‘men of action,'” Lt. Col. Chris Niedziocha, commander of 1/6, said in a statement. “I’m continually amazed by and grateful for the people we have in this battalion.”
It’s not the first time U.S. service members in transit have jumped into action to prevent a disaster. Perhaps most famously, a soldier and an airman traveling on a train in France in 2015 helped to avert a terror attack — and were eventually awarded honorary French citizenship in thanks for their efforts.
Now that a top American general has declared tiny drones as the biggest threat in the Middle East since IEDs, the British military is bringing some tiny drones of their own. But the UK’s drone swarms can be fired from a 40mm grenade launcher.
Whether an infantry unit needs the drones to carry cameras, bombs or act as a swarm, they can now field what they need with the pull of a trigger. British troops in Mali supporting Operation Newcombe will soon be fielding the Australian-designed Drone 40.
The Drone40 is being used for long range ISR in the sub-Saharan country to support United Nations troops operating there.
Military reporters at Overt Defense first reported the Drone40 debut at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in 2019. The devices were able to bring flashbangs and smoke to the battlefield along with other weapons and reconnaissance capabilities.
Drone40 UAVs are adaptable to many battlefield situations and can be adapted quickly to changing situations. When used in a non-combat situation, the devices are retrievable and can be reused multiple times. In a combat environment, they can carry an explosive payload with armor-piercing warheads.
The British troops in Mali are apparently using only the ISR functions.
“Although the system is in use, the version we are using is hand launched and does not include any munitions – it is purely used for surveillance and reconnaissance,” British Royal Anglican commander Will Meddings said on Twitter.
He also clarified that British troops in Mali are only hand launching them because there is “plenty that needs to be trialed, tested and assured.”
The new drone can be fired from 40mm launchers but its size depends on the kind of drone being used. Launchers that only fire short rounds will not be able to use some of the different payloads.
Operation Newcombe is the British effort in the United Nations’ Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. The UK has 300 soldiers in the country to help support French peacekeeping efforts after a 2012 uprising by al-Qaeda linked nearly tore the country in two.
The British are supplying logistical and long-range reconnaissance support to the French antiterrorism effort. The British Long Range Reconnaissance Group is part of the UN Peacekeeping mission there, in order to determine how best to help the people of Mali in a time of political instability.
During Navy Special Ops training, candidates complete exhaustive missions under extreme stress, limited sleep, and in freezing water conditions.
For the last 25 years, the US military has used an ingestible thermometer pill to monitor the core body temperature of service members during physically demanding missions.
CorTemp pill (HQ, Inc.) was developed in the mid-1980’s by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The sensor technology was first used on astronauts to detect hypothermia and hyperthermic conditions during space flight.
Here is how the pill works: Soldiers swallow a 3/4-inch silicone-coated capsule which contains a microbattery and a quartz crystal temperature sensor. Within two hours, the quartz crystal sensor vibrates at a frequency relative to the body’s temperature and transmits a harmless, low-frequency signal through the body.
Team personnel can wirelessly monitor the core body temperature of multiple subjects in real time. There are several options and configurations for tracking temperatures, including the most simple method of holding the data recorder near the small of the back. The pill safely passes through the digestive system after 18 to 30 hours.
“For SWCC personnel, the pill is used to monitor body core temperature and is used only in training. Its use ensures candidates can understand the impact of cold water and allows medical and training cadre staff to ensure safety parameters for training are observed,” wrote Navy Lt. Ben Tisdale via email.
The ingestible capsules are also used by the NFL, various European militaries, and fire departments in the United States and in Australia, according to Director of Sales Marketing, Lee Carbonelli.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
An A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 74th Fighter Squadron taxis down the runway during Green Flag-West 17-03 Jan. 23, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 74th FS brought 12 A-10s to GFW in support of a joint, large-force, combat-readiness exercise for close air support integration training.
Two Air Force teams hand off their batons during the mile relay at the 27th annual Air Force Invitational at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Field House in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 21, 2017. The Falcons fielded five teams, grabbing the top two positions, with the Colorado Buffs finishing in third place.
U.S. Army and Latvian Soldiers conduct winter survival training during Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Latvian Land Force photo by Normunds Mežiņš, Young Guard and Information Centre
173rd Airborne Brigade and Latvian Soldiers conduct winter survival training during Operation Atlantic Resolve, Jan. 26, 2017.
Latvian Land Force photo by Normunds Mežiņš, Young Guard and Information Centre
PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 30, 2017) Capt. Doug Verissimo, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), conducts pre-flight checks in an F/A 18E Super Hornet from the Kestrels of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 137. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a western Pacific deployment as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of U.S. 3rd fleet.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 1, 2017) An E/A-18G Growler assigned to the Lancers of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131 launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The ship’s carrier strike group is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests.
Marines assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fire a M252A2 81mm mortar system at Range 106 during Integrated Training Exercise 2-17, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 13, 2017. ITX is a combined-arms exercise which provides all elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force an opportunity to utilize capabilities during large scale missions to become a more ready fighting force. 1/3 is currently participating as the ground combat element for this exercise.
Marines observe the abilities of military working dog teams during a training exercise in Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 25, 2017. The Marines are dog handlers with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
A 29-foot Response Boat-Small II boat crew from Station Sand Key, Florida, prepares to set a safety zone before the annual Gasparilla boat parade in Tampa Bay, Florida, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. The Coast Guard partnered with multiple local agencies to ensure the safety and security of boaters during the event.
An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew flies over the Gasparilla barge, Jose Gaspar, during the annual Gasparilla boat parade in Tampa Bay, Florida, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. The Coast Guard partnered with multiple local agencies to ensure the safety and security of boaters during the event.
As America approaches the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s a somber reminder of the lives lost but also those forever altered. Army veteran Jason Kander was one of them.
“I grew up, not in a military family, but in a family where if you had the ability to help people, you did. I had always admired people who served and like most people, my grandfather and great grandfather served in World War II and World War I,” he explained. “When 9/11 happened, it just flipped the equation for me and it went from being ‘maybe someday’ category to, ‘I’m going do this and I’ll figure out the rest of my life around it.’”
As the world watched the events unfolding in horror, Kander recalled it all. “I remember those moments vividly. I was on my way to chemistry class when I heard about the first tower. Later that afternoon my roommates and I found out there was a place to give blood so we headed down there,” he said.
Though they waited for hours, they were unable to give blood because the location didn’t have the capacity to take anymore. But the words of one of the staff members stuck with him.
I hope you find some other way to help.
“At that moment it all crystallized for me. I had been thinking of joining all day but at that moment, I knew I would. Later that day I looked up the physical fitness standards for the Army and went on a run,” Kander shared.
He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2003 and while earning his law degree from Georgetown, was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the ROTC program. Upon graduation in 2005, Kander volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan and left a well-paying position as a lawyer to willingly serve in a combat zone. In his book,Outside the Wire, Kander openly shared how crazy everyone thought he was. The first hour in Afghanistan began forming the invisible wounds which would take a decade to truly be discovered.
Not only was Kander continually in rooms with terrorists, he also went outside the wire up to four times a week. Before long, he was used to it, and eventually became a Convoy Commander walking newly arrived troops through the same instructions he received at arrival. Things like, there was no armor, if they were hit with an IED or ambushed, death was probably a reality. Though Kander walked many troops through these instructions, there was one new soldier he will always remember.
“I think about that kid a lot,” Kander wrote in his book. “I think about his path to that moment, how he volunteered to sign up after 9/11, knowing he’d probably end up in a place like Afghanistan, in that seat behind me on his way outside the wire. And in that moment, he chose to put his job first and get in the Pajero.” What struck Kander was how the young man had to choose between an easy path in his life or the right one, and in the end, he chose the right thing to do.
After his four month deployment to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, Kander returned home. He taught Leadership Skills in Combat for OCS at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for awhile and also practiced as an attorney. He left the Army as a captain in 2011.
In 2008, Kander was elected into the Missouri House of Representatives and in 2012, became the Secretary of State. He was the youngest statewide elected official at the time. Just four years later he announced his Democratic bid for the United States Senate and went viral when he assembled a rifle blindfolded in a commercial.
Kander didn’t win his bid for the historically Republican-held seat, he only narrowly lost by three points. It was noticed.
He announced his intent to seek the mayoral seat for Kansas City, Missouri in 2018. There were even rumors circulating he’d be running for president (he eventually confirmed those). Kander was in high demand and had earned a solid reputation as a changemaker in the legislative space. But a year later, he walked away from it all.
Though he could have continued his mayoral bid and most likely easily won, it wasn’t the right choice for him. On the outside, Kander had everything squared away: He married his high school sweet heart, built a successful career and had a promising future in politics. But there were invisible struggles no one was aware of.
In 2019, he shocked the world when he publicly announced he was seeking treatment for depression and PTSD. Kander openly shared it was caused by his time as an intelligence officer deployed to Afghanistan. In a Facebook post, Kander wrote:
“About four months ago, I contacted the VA to get help. It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day. So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.
But, on some level, I knew something was deeply wrong, and that it hadn’t felt that way before my deployment. After 11 years of this, I finally took a step toward dealing with it, but I didn’t step far enough.I went online and filled out the VA forms, but I left boxes unchecked – too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms. I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma. I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out.That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.
By all objective measures, things have been going well for me the past few months. My first book became a New York Times Bestseller in August. Let America Vote has been incredibly effective, knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors and making hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I know that our work is making a big difference. And last Tuesday, I found out that we were going to raise more money than any Kansas City mayoral campaign ever has in a single quarter. But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts. And it wasn’t the first time.
I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.Instead of dealing with these issues, I’ve always tried to find a way around them. Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems. I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me. But it’s just getting worse. So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”
For the next year, Kander worked with the VA to process and work through it all. “No matter who you are or what you did, the military taught you someone else did more. It was good training when you had to go do dangerous things but it isn’t for life post-military,” he explained.
The Veterans Community Project veteran leadership quietly supported him in the early stages and assisted him with navigating the bureaucratic system of the VA. After witnessing the extraordinary mission and work, Kander began volunteering. Today, he’s leading the national expansion of the organization dedicated to serving homeless veterans.
As the world reacted to the chaos surrounding the Afghanistan troop withdrawal in August 2021, Kander turned his focus to fellow veterans. “It’s an extremely difficult week. Fortunately, thanks to treatment I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of at the VA, I feel I have the tools and know how to use them so I am making myself useful to my Afghanistan veterans,” he explained. “We are all checking on each other and that helps.”
Kander has utilized his platform to voice the feelings many veterans are having. Through national media appearances and podcasts, it’s his intent to ensure veterans’ voices are being heard. “It’s frustrating because it kind of feels like the American people found out this week that there’s a war in Afghanistan and they’re really pissed about it,” he said.
But in his eyes, it’s because they didn’t have to think about it. “One of the lessons is that wars are a lot more likely to last 20 years when the average American back home doesn’t suffer even the most minor inconvenience or disruption to their daily routine,” Kander said. “I try not to be resentful toward those who want to write off the entire effort as a waste when they weren’t a part of it. What really bothers me though, is seeing people suddenly act like they were against this war from the beginning.”
His message to fellow veterans as the events continue to unfold in Afghanistan and the 9/11 anniversary comes was direct.
“One, check on your buddies. One of the hardest parts of being a veteran at a time when America has gone the longest consecutive period in its history without mandatory service means that a lot of us tend to feel isolated. It’s a big reason why they feel like what they are going through isn’t normal or must not be okay,” Kander explained. The second message was to take care of yourself. “We’ve done a very good job of getting the message out there that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness but is strength. But what we haven’t gotten out there is that treatment for PTSD is effective. It isn’t a terminal diagnosis…I refer to post-traumatic growth.”
As he and his fellow veterans continued to watch the Taliban retake Afghanistan in horror, the question of, “What was it all for?” kept coming up.
Kander was adamant in highlighting the important missions of retaliating against al-Qaeda and fighting international terrorism and though the United States was ultimately unable to help the Afghan people retake their country from terrorists’ rule, it was never in vain or the wrong thing to do. Because when faced with the two choices Kander often references – easy or right – those who serve this country tend to go for the right one regardless of the sacrifice involved.
The American blood, sweat and tears left in the Afghanistan sand prove it.