Disrupting terrorist networks is inherently difficult, and success is difficult to measure. Clandestine by nature, these groups generally hide their internal functions, institutions, and various chains of command. While a potentially vast cadre of fighters, sympathizers, and suppliers wait in the wings, the outside world only glimpses a few leaders, who often serve as figureheads for their organizations.
With little else to go on, states often make targeting these leaders a key priority. From the Shining Path in Peru to ISIL in Syria and Iraq, security forces carry out operations to capture or kill mid- and upper-level leaders in the hopes that their absence will be the knockout blow necessary to defeat a terrorist organization. Recent attention has turned to ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is rumored to be still alive. Intelligence gathering and planning is likely underway in multiple countries to capture or kill the man who continues to lead one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. But is leadership decapitation, as this strategy is known, effective?
Leadership decapitation rests on a simple principle: taking out a key player in a terrorist group in the hope that his or her absence destroys morale and slows the group’s operational tempo. Such strategies can target both leaders – who may hold symbolic and strategic importance – and tactical experts who might be hard to replace, like bomb makers. The policy has played an important role in U.S. counterterrorism policy since 9/11, recently receiving praise from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
While the logic is clear, the strategy’s results are mixed and depend on the terrorist group’s internal dynamics. Smaller, younger groups – variously defined – are more susceptible to the effects of leadership decapitation, as are groups without an established bureaucracy. Group type is thought to play a role as well, with religiously-oriented groups being better able to withstand the loss of a leader. Most vulnerable are groups that lean heavily on a single, charismatic leader who plays a central role in the organization.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Leadership decapitation has ended some groups. The capture of Abimael Guzman and 14 other leaders of the Shining Path in 1992 quickly reduced the group to a shadow of its former self. The group struggled to recover after the capture of Guzman, who exercised near-total control. After the assassination of Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) struggled to find a capable successor and only recovered years later.
However, not all groups fall into these categories. With its deep roots in a conflict that extends back decades, raids and airstrikes have killed a number of Al-Shabaab leaders, yet it continues to carry out deadlyattacks, including an October 2017 truck bombing that killed more than 500 Somalis. Al-Qaeda has suffered the loss of a number of key leaders, including founder Osama Bin Laden and leaders of its Yemeni and Syrian branches. Despite these losses from 2011 to 2015, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) managed to hang on and even expand its operations in Yemen until coordinated US-UAE operations in 2016 forced the group to engage in direct combat, which reduced – but did not eliminate – the threat posed by the group in Yemen.
Perhaps no group is more emblematic of resilience in the face of leadership decapitation than ISIL itself. Airstrikes, battles, and military operations have killed many of the group’s leaders within Syria and Iraq and its numerous regional affiliates. Despite this, the group has proven capable of finding replacements. When ISIL’s chief strategist and number two, Mohammed al-Adnani, was killed in late August 2016, the group announced his replacement about two months later. ISIL continues to maintain the ability to launch deadly attacks via its worldwide cells and those inspired by its calls to violence, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to Egypt.
As evidenced above, ISIL does not fit the profile of terrorist groups vulnerable to the effects of leadership decapitation. Its well-known penchant for bureaucracy has allowed slain leaders to be quickly replaced. While the loss of ISIL leaders has likely impacted the organization, it arguably has been affected to a greater degree by the overwhelming firepower directed at the organization from every level, not just its leaders. US strikes have pounded the group’s military positions, financial stores, and its fighters at every level, not just its leader. The redundancy within ISIL’s organization and the lack of a single, charismatic leader mean that finding competent replacements is not a life or death decision for the terror group.
Lt. Col. Rod Coffey and the insurgent flag his unit captured in Diyala Province, Iraq, in 2008. The same banner would eventually be used by the Islamic State.
(U.S. Army photo)
The most frightening aspect of ISIL’s lethality comes from the cells and sympathizers strewn across the world. Central leadership can plan and order these attacks, but cells with organic roots in localized conflicts can also plan and influence their own operations. While ISIL has been reduced to a sliver of its former territory in Iraq and Syria, the threat posed by its worldwide affiliates is unlikely to disappear with Baghdadi.
To be fair, the choice to pursue terrorist leaders is not a purely strategic calculation. Arguments about the effects of leadership on terrorists’ operational capacity mean little to those who have lost loved ones or live in fear because of terrorist attacks. And when dealing with groups that have almost no public presence, targeting leaders is often one of the only options available. It would be unwise to dismiss these other considerations for pursuing a decapitation strike out of hand, just as it would be unwise to assume that killing Baghdadi or any other leader is necessarily a knockout blow.
There is little doubt that ISIL, while still dangerous, is a weakened organization. Recent success in pushing back the group – a refreshing change from 2014 and 2015, when it appeared ready to roll over much of Syria and Iraq – is owed to several factors. A growing international recognition of the threat posed by ISIL, a crackdown on those traveling to and from Syria and Iraq, and overwhelming firepower directed against the group in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere have all played a role in reducing the threat. However, there is little reason to believe that what threat remains of ISIL would disappear with Baghdadi, especially in light of the group’s demonstrated resilience and commitment to terror.
For the first time, Behrend was going to meet her 19-year-old biological sister, Crystal Boyd, who lives in Puyallup, Washington.
After training, Behrend anxiously waited until she was whisked off to the hotel for the meeting, which she said was surreal.
“I have been picturing this moment for a long time and for it to finally happen, I couldn’t be happier,” Behrend said. “We keep in touch through social media but we’re trying to make plans for me to meet our dad and have them meet my family.”
“I’ve been extremely excited but I knew it would happen sometime. I just didn’t know when,” Boyd said. “Throughout the time I’ve known her, she’s gone through so much and watching her overcome everything right in front of my eyes, in person here at the DoD Warrior Games, is an honor. She’s always had the strength and now she’s going out and doing what we all knew she could do. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
(DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
Boyd said she also can’t wait to meet Behrend’s family. “We’ve already talked about me visiting her and her family in Texas,” she said. “I’m excited to meet my nieces.”
Call to Service
Claiming Gilford, Connecticut, and Bradenton, Florida, as her hometowns, Behrend, 24, said she grew up moving around as a kid. She was adopted when she was four years old by an Army Ranger.
“My brother and I were adopted because when my biological dad got back from Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he wasn’t really the same person. So my mom spilt with him pretty rapidly to get us out of the situation,” she said. “As my mom told me about him, I was like, ‘I need to meet him. This is half of me. I don’t know who he is.’ We somehow got in contact with him. I think through his sister randomly. I talked to him for two hours that night and found out I had a sister.”
“Our dad told me about her and our brother while growing up, so I always knew about her. I just didn’t know her. She actually got in contact with me. I never knew how to find her so I just waited,” Boyd said.
Behrend said she’s tried to meet up with her sister a few times throughout the years, but it’s been difficult since she has been in the Air Force for the past six years.
Behrend said she joined the Air Force as a communications signals analyst because of her family’s military legacy. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “My grandfather served during the Vietnam era. My biological father was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My adopted dad was a Ranger down in Panama for the Panama crisis. It’s just something our family does.”
When Behrend reconnected with her biological dad, she said they had that military bond. “It was an immediate, talk about everything bond,” she said. “I can call him and say, ‘This is going on; what do I do?’ He tries; we’ve been working on rebuilding that relationship. He said he will always be thankful that someone was able to come in and step into our lives to make sure we’re OK.”
In 2015, Behrend had a surgical complication that resulted in reflex sympathetic dystrophy. She said the neurological disorder impacts her involuntary functions such as temperature control, blood pressure, heart rate, pain, inflammation, swelling and other functions that a person doesn’t actively control. When she runs, she said she feels like her leg will go out from under her.
(DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
“It causes a lot of pain, instability and weakness in my right leg,” she said. “I also had a spinal injury from a car accident so it messes with my left one too.”
Her sister has epilepsy. Behrend said her disability is rare but since both of their disabilities are neurological, it’s an extra bond they can share and talk about.
Behrend has two little children as well as her sister to keep her motivated. “I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that if something happens, you just stop your entire life,” she said. “It’s not what life it about. Life it experiences. I don’t even see them as positive or negative anymore. Just experience it. It pushes me in one way or another but I grow.”
She encourages others to push themselves as well. “It doesn’t matter how early or late something happens or what he magnitude is. As long as you do it with all of your heart and you put everything you have into it, no matter what, it’s going to work,” she said passionately.
“Just because you have some kind of disability doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it,” Boyd said. “You can’t allow it to stop you from doing the things you want to do and the things you want to do. Even with obstacles, you can overcome whatever you truly put your mind to. Neither Karah nor I let our disorders define us. It’s a part of us, but it is not us.”
DoD Warrior Games
So far at these Warrior Games, Behrend has earned gold medals in her disability category in the women’s discus and shot put competitions. She broke a record in shot put in her category.
Boyd said she’s inspired not only by her sister but by the athletes at her first games.
“Watching everyone here inspires me,” she said. “These athletes decided to serve our nation, and even after they’ve been injured in some way they still continue to serve by inspiring everyone around them.”
Boyd added, “Even though you have a disability, it doesn’t define you. With a good support system, anything is possible. As long as you put your mind to it, give some effort and trust those around you, things will start moving. Don’t forget things take time. Don’t stress if things don’t happen as fast as you want them to.”
Seven people were injured early March 25, 2019, after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip hit a home in central Israel.
The Israeli Air Force on March 25, 2019, retaliated, striking several Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip, including its so-called “military intelligence” headquarters, the IDF said.
According to the IDF, a rocket was launched around 5 a.m. from a Hamas position near Rafah, located in the southern end of the Gaza Strip. The rocket landed on a residential home in the central community of Mishmeret, located around 75 miles (120 kilometers) away from the suspected launch site.
This map shows the distance between the Gaza Strip and the central Israeli community of Mishmeret.
Seven people inside the house were wounded in the early morning attack, Israel’s emergency service Magen David Adom said, including two women, two men, and three children. The injuries ranged from light to moderate, the service said.
The home, located just 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Israel’s largest city of Tel Aviv, belonged to a British-Israeli family, the BBC reported. The attack also damaged a nearby home and several vehicles.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though the IDF has blamed Hamas militants for the rocket fire. The IDF also posted drone footage it says shows the home that was damaged.
While militants on the Gaza Strip frequently launch rockets into Israel, they often land in open areas or communities located on the outskirts of the region. It is uncommon for a rocket launched from Gaza to land in central Israel, and March 25, 2019’s incident marks the furthest a rocket launched from Gaza has landed in Israel since 2014, CNN reported.
The army said the system had not been triggered prior to the rocket hitting the Mishmeret home because “rocket fire toward the center of the country was not expected at the time,” Haaretz said.
Israel launched air strikes on several targets in Gaza, including what it called Hamas “military intelligence” headquarters, late March 25, 2019, and into the morning on March 26, 2019. The IDF says it launched the air strikes in response to attacks on Israeli communities.
The IDF also said it deployed infantry and armored troops to its southern border, and said it was preparing to call up thousands of reservists.
Sirens continued to sound in communities in southern Israel early March 26, 2019, the IDF said.
Tensions between Israel and Gaza have risen in recent weeks, and attempts to establish a cease-fire have been elusive.
Earlier March 2019, two rockets were launched toward Tel Aviv, triggering sirens across central Israel. No injuries were reported. Israeli media reported that the rockets had been launched from Gaza by mistake, citing defense officials.
Israel responded with air strikes on over 100 targets in Gaza, which injured four Palestinians, Gaza health officials reported.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One of the struggles that many returning, wounded veterans face is trying to find a new normal after a horrific incident. What was once a simple pastime, like playing a quick round of your favorite video game to relieve stress, is taken away from someone who has lost the ability to hold and operate a controller as they once did.
This is what Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is designed to alleviate. And any little thing that can help give our wounded brothers and sisters a better chance at living a comfortable, normal life should definitely be counted as a win for the veteran community as a whole.
AbleGamers has founded many Accessibility Arcades to give gamers with disabilities a space with a wide variety of modified controllers.
(USDA photo by Bob Nichols)
The disabled gaming community has had to find ways to compensate for many years, going to either extremely costly or very frustrating lengths to do so. If a gamer with disabilities isn’t able to successfully adjust the way they play to fit their condition, they have to abandon the game, wasting cash and taking a hit to morale as they have to say goodbye to their favorite titles.
And then came the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which requires tech companies to outfit all forms of communication, including laptops, smartphones, and video game consoles, with accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since the CCVAA’s passing, nearly all tech giants have taken steps in the right direction, introducing many text-to-speech features for the visually impaired and other accessibility options, like color-blind support settings in most major game titles. Then, Microsoft moved leaps and bounds ahead of the wave when they announced a partnership with AbleGamers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving accessibility in the video game space.
The engineers at Microsoft began working on a versatile prototype controller that can interface with all types of external input devices, allowing for an adaptive remapping of inputs. There are 19 ports on the back of the controller that can be connected to joysticks, standard controllers, buttons, switches, or whatever other type of device is most accessible to the gamer. If need be, any Xbox game can be played with one hand and a foot, one hand and a shoulder, one shoulder and a foot — whatever allows the gamer to play most comfortably.
The controller has been released to the public — and at a reasonable price. Our friends at Operation Supply Drop were given many adaptive controllers to be deployed to military hospitals around the world. The chief medical officer of OSD, Maj. Erik Johnson, has long been a supporter of using video games as a therapeutic tool for wounded troops.
With these controllers, many more wounded veterans will be able to bring gaming back into their lives.
Just six months after the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japanese forces clashed once again in the Pacific. For three days, Navies battled near the Midway Atoll, located roughly half way between Hawaii and the Japanese mainland. From June 4th to the 7th, brilliant minds orchestrated incredible naval feats in hopes of destroying the other side.
Although an Allied victory here is seen as a key turning point of the war, there are so many important details that some are lost even on the most staunch historians. Here are five things you likely didn’t know about this momentus battle.
Adm. Yamamoto saluting his Japanese naval pilots.
Japan wanted to mirror the successes of Pearl Harbor
Japanese Adm. Yamamoto wanted to once again employ the element of surprise to defeat Allied forces stationed at Midway. To distract the U.S., Yamamoto sent many ships toward the coast of Alaska in hopes of baiting American reinforcements to defend against a non-existent attack.
Things did not go as they planned.
Military intelligence had intercepted Japan’s plot, including the time and location of a planned attack. Adm. Nimitz decided to take on the challenge of defeating the Japanese by using his well-trained pilots, launched from perfectly placed ships behind the atoll.
Japan thought they’d catch the Americans off-guard and cornered, but Nimitz had other plans.
A PBY Catalina scout plane, similar to the one that first spotted the incoming Japanese.
The Japanese had strict radio silence
Japan decided to maintain radio silence as they sent their ships toward the coast of Alaska. During a recon flight, a Naval pilot spotted the incoming enemy while flying through the heavy Pacific fog. The pilot thought he had located the main body of attack — in reality, it was a secondary Japanese attack on Midway. In response, the U.S. sent out nine B-17 Bombers to take out the invading force.
Due to strict orders to maintain radio silence, the Japanese ships took on the American bombers alone, instead of letting superior command know.
The American fighters were outnumbered
The Japanese sought to destroy the installations built on the Atoll by Allied forces with bombers launched from carriers. Navy, Marine, and Army pilots took to the skies to fight off the bombers and their sizable fighter escort. The Americans were extremely outnumbered — still, they held fast.
After 27 minutes of bombing, the Japanese ended their first aerial attack. Then, an enemy pilot broke radio silence to alert command that they needed more fighters to sustain their offensive. Before the enemy could make a decision, knowing that they didn’t have guns in the air, American bombers followed the Japanese back to their carriers and began their air raid.
What shifted the battle in favor of Americans
American pilots went on an offensive, heading straight toward a reported location of Japanese forces. When they arrived, they found nothing but empty seas. Instead of returning to base, aviators made what Admiral Nimitz would later call “one of the most important decisions of the battle.”
The pilots then proceeded to an unlikely secondary location. There, they found the Japanese carriers — unprepared. Immediately, fighters destroyed one of the four Japanese vessels. Other Americans rushed onto the scene to continue the attack. This event shifted the tide of battle to favor the Americans, wresting victory from Japanese hands.
The Chinese military has deployed military personnel and armored medical vehicles to Germany for joint drills, a first for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as it attempts to forge closer ties with Europe.
The joint exercise — Combined Aid 2019 — is focused on preparing troops with the medical service units of the Chinese and German armed forces to respond to humanitarian crises, such as mass casualty incidents and serious disease outbreaks, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.
The exercise follows a cooperative military medical training exercise in 2016 in Chongqing, where the PLA and the German Bundeswehr practiced responding to an imaginary earthquake scenario.
“We’ve seen China increasing its participation in these kinds of activities. It provides a low risk means to demonstrate its commitment to global governance, which may help reduce anxiety about its growing military capabilities,” China watcher Matthew Funaiole, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told INSIDER.
“Training exercises also help improve its coordination and logistics, which is helpful for the modernization process,” he added.
Chinese troops in Germany.
The PLA’s paramedical forces have been stepping up their participation in this type of cooperative training. These troops have even been deployed to humanitarian crisis zones, such as the Ebola outbreak in certain parts of Africa.
Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, told the South China Morning Post that there may be more to the Chinese military’s activities than preparing for crises.
“The PLA in the future will need to go abroad to protect China’s overseas interests in countries along the Belt and Road Initiative,” he explained. “If there could be some basic mutual trust and understanding with NATO forces, the risk of potential conflict could be greatly mitigated.”
The Belt and Road Initiative refers to a massive Chinese-led project designed to position China at the heart of a vast, far-reaching global trade network.
Wany Yiwei, a European studies expert at Renmin University of China, stressed that uncertainty as a result of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy has created new opportunities for China and Europe.
“As the leader of the EU, Germany has said that Europe should take charge of its own security,” he told the Hong Kong-based SCMP. “It is also a brand new world security situation now, as both China and Europe would want to hedge their risks in dealing with the US.”
Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with the Atlantic Council, told Stars and Stripes that “the presence of the Chinese military in Germany for this exercise creates very bad optics for Germany, NATO and the US and is a cheap propaganda victory for China.”
Last year, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) conducted its first combined exercise with the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) in waters near China’s new military base in Djibouti. It marked an unprecedented level of cooperation at that time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Should every American Citizen serve in the military? Should women be required to register for the selective service (draft)? What should the future of the Selective Service look like?
Navy veteran Shawn Skelly and Marine Corps veteran Ed Allard are commissioners for the Commission on National, Military and Public Service. Their mission is to recommend answers to these and many more questions to Congress by March 2020. Shawn and Ed visited Borne the Battle to discuss the two years of data that the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has gathered to answer those and many other questions.
Some of the goals of the National Commission are:
Reviewing the military selective service process.
Listening to the public to learn from those who serve.
Igniting a national conversation about service.
Developing recommendations that will encourage every American to be inspired and eager to serve.
According to their interim report, the Commission has learned:
Americans value service.
Americans are willing to consider a wide variety of options to encourage or require service.
Some Americans are aware of the details of the Selective Service System while many are not.
Some Barriers to Service include:
Military Service is a responsibility borne by few.
National Service is America’s best-kept secret.
Public Service personnel practices need an overhaul.
Civic knowledge is critical for our democracy, but too few Americans receive high quality education.
Finally, the commissioners came on Borne the Battle to let listeners know that they can provide input.
Click here to learn how – deadline is Dec. 31, 2019.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The top enlisted leader of the U.S. Air Force is making resiliency a top priority for the last year of his tenure, and part of his plan to promote strong and mindful airmen is to revamp how airmen approach the physical fitness assessment, commonly known as the PT test.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright is looking at new ways of approaching the PT test. One possibility under consideration is a no-fail trial PT test, that if passed, would count as the airman’s official score, Wright’s spokesman, Senior Master Sgt. Harry Kibbe, said.
“The intent is to relieve some of the anxiety, and hopefully this is one of the steps that can get [the Air Force] closer to a culture of fitness rather than a culture of fitness testing,” Kibbe told Miliary.com on Aug. 7, 2019. The news was first reported by Air Force Magazine.
Kibbe explained that, in the Air Force, an “excellent” composite score is equal to or greater than 90 points with all minimum components met. A satisfactory score is between 75 and 89.99 points. Anything below 75 is a failing score. If an airman scores 90 or above, he or she has a year before the next test. Those within the 75 to 89 category only have six months before they must take the next assessment.
(United States Air Force)
The current Air Force fitness test is gender and age-normed and combines a 1.5-mile run time with maximum pushup and sit-up repetitions within one minute.
“In order to try to relieve some of the anxiety that airmen are having when they’re getting close to their due date, we’re going to allow them to take a ‘diagnostic test,'” he said.
It can be taken anytime in the year-long or six-month window, though not after.
“They’re going to take that diagnostic test and if they pass it, as long as they’re doing it through the official testing system … their clock would reset,” Kibbe said. “If they don’t pass it, but they’re still current, there will not be any punitive actions.”
If an airman fails the pre-test, he or she still has time to work on “what they need to work on” to improve for the next PT assessment, he said.
Kibbe said the Air Force is in the process of developing the policy, but stressed it’s still “months away” from any potential implementation.
A Day in the Life
(U.S. Air Force photo by Jamie Pitcher)
There may also be a change to the tape test, Kibbe said. The tape test, which measures body fat based on waist circumference, has drawn criticism over the years as an ineffective way to assess body composition due to differences in body type and musculature.
Officials are “looking at incorporating an equation,” Kibbe said. “To find out your fitness index for the abdominal circumference, they’re looking at adding into an equation your waist measurement, your height and your run time to get an overall cardiovascular fitness index, or a number that more accurately represents how you’re doing.”
The waist maximums remain 39 inches for men and 35.5 inches for women.
There are outliers when it comes to waist measurement, though, including very tall men and women and those with big builds. Kibbe said the Air Force is still weighing what the cutoffs for the proposed equation method would be.
“The science is telling us that we do need to keep a measurement of the waist because [it] is an accurate predictor of health,” he said.
For any changes to PT, Kibbe said Wright is making sure the service “gets it right rather than fast.”
“He’s more than comfortable to handing this off to the next [CMSAF] knowing it has been set up for success,” Kibbe said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Platoon sergeants have to be jacks-of-all-trades to handle their many roles. They must balance the welfare of their troops and supervise training evolutions all while keeping up with the platoon’s administrative tasks — it’s a lot of work.
When you first enter the unit as a newbie boot, it’s rare that you’ll ever get to know much about your platoon sergeant outside of their name, rank, and how many countries they’ve deployed to. However, there are others who pride themselves on getting to know a few things about each one of their troops. Every platoon sergeant has their own style of leading that works best for them.
But, if you’re in the infantry, you’ll come in contact with at least five different types of platoon sergeants in a grunt unit.
Some platoon sergeants take a back seat to their other NCOs when it comes training their troops. Others want to spearhead the training and break everything down themselves, “Barney style” — which isn’t a bad thing.
2. The organized pointer
This type of platoon sergeant has practically seen it all and done it all. He shows up prepared and ready to kick ass. They know what they need and how to get the job done.
3. The one who wants to get in the fight
This motivated leader helps plan out missions and even lends a hand when they aren’t in battalion-level meetings.
4. The one who loves themselves some training
These are one of our favorite types. They’re the ones who will strap on a heavy pack and go on a ruck march to prove they can lead, and that they’ve still “got it.”
After a 12-mile hike, this platoon sergeant is still smiling — no big deal. (NCO Journal photo by Clifford Kyle Jones)
This is the type that when he speaks, everyone in the platoon listens like the words are spoken from scripture. He’s earned the right to be heard by everyone. Other up-and-coming grunts hope they’ll be like him someday.
Ancient Rome is credited with major contributions to modern day language, religion, law, art, and government. Indeed, the Roman Empire was filled with breathtaking architecture and an intricate and fascinating socio-economic culture. But it was also full of drama.
Most people know at least a few key facts about Julius Caesar and his infamous assassination on the Ides of March. But as the Roman Republic crumbled with him and the Roman Empire rose in its place, the rulers that came after him were no less controversial. Extravagance, executions, and extreme religious persecution stand at the forefront of many Roman emperor’s legacies. And that’s not mentioning the sex scandals.
So here’s a list of the absolute worst Roman emperors, in order from the mildly incompetent to the devastatingly unstable.
Diocletian, 284-305 CE
Emperor Diocletian deserves some credit, as his rule marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. His governmental reforms are cited as being one of the main contributors to the Roman Empire’s longevity for the next millennium. Diocletian regained control over a wild military force, suppressed enemy threats along the Empire’s borders, and revised the tax system in a broken economy.
However, he’s also credited with one of the most brutal attempts to purge Christianity in history, which definitely resides in the “cons” column. Diocletian revoked the legal rights of Christians, trying to encourage his citizens back to a more traditional worship of the old Roman gods. He razed churches and destroyed religious scriptures, and went even further to prohibit Christian’s from even gathering to worship. After a suspicious fire within the imperial palace, Diocletian’s belief in a Christian conspiracy led to a spree of scourging, torture, and beheading.
In 305 CE, after becoming greatly weakened by a severe illness, Diocletian resigned from his rule, passing the torch to someone with the strength to bear the Empire’s burdens. The first person to willingly abdicate from the role, the former Emperor spent the rest of his days tending a vegetable garden—sounds like a pretty fulfilling retirement.
Elagabalus, 218-222 CE
Elagabalus became Emperor at the tender age of 14, kicking off a reign that would be known for sex scandals and religious controversy—not exactly the sort of things you expect from someone fresh out of puberty.
Emperor Elagabalus started out in life as a high priest serving the Syrian sun god he shared a name with. When he came to rule over Rome, his devotion to the god drove him to try and elevate him to the same status as Jupiter, a move which greatly displeased the Empire. He even insisted upon marrying a Vestal Virgin, Aquilia Severa, which was in direct opposition to not only Roman tradition, but to the law.
On the more salacious side, it’s said that Elagabalus prostituted himself throughout the palace. He was married to five different women, and took on countless lovers of all sexes. He sent servants out into the city to procure lovers for him, and even opened the imperial baths up to the public to enjoy the spectacle of watching others bathe.
Some historians say that Elagabalus might have been one of the first transgender historical figures, offering large amounts of money to any physician who would be able to successfully administer gender reassignment surgery. This was regarded as wholly scandalous by the people of Rome, casting him in a negative light he couldn’t hope to overcome.
Elagabalus’s general incompetence on the throne led to the devaluation of the Roman currency. Showing his immaturity further, he began appointing lovers to crucial political positions. So while history tends to be unfavorable towards him for his personal choices, it does seem likely that he was unfit as an emperor mostly due to the fact that he was a literal child.
The Emperor’s youth did him no favors in the end, however. At 18 years old, Elagabalus and his eccentric behavior were brought to an end by the Praetorian Guard. After Elagabalus stripped his cousin’s titles and wealth, the Guard, who much preferred said cousin, rebelled against Elagabalus, killing both him and his mother in the violence.
Tiberius, 13-37 CE
There were plenty of things that Emperor Tiberius did right. He avoided needless and financially draining military campaigns and instead relied heavily on diplomacy. He reinforced the borders of the Empire. He even kept the Empire’s treasury generously stocked.
However, Tiberius never really wanted to rule as emperor, and that was very apparent. He left many responsibilities to the Senate and was otherwise distant and reclusive. He left Rome in the middle of his reign—a decision widely regarded as the worst one he could possibly make—and opened himself up to a reputation fully up to interpretation.
Whether these claims are rooted in truth or based fully in fabrication is impossible to know at this point, but either way, Tiberius was hated enough to get tongues wagging with the most vicious of talk. During his stay on the island of Capri, Tiberius was accused of flinging people off of cliffs for minor slights and engaging in disturbing sexual acts with very young boys. While that doesn’t have very much to do with governing an empire, it’s pretty much the last thing you want out of a ruler.
Tiberius earned a reputation as a bloodthirsty emperor after a mess grew out of a man named Sejanus making a grab for power. Sejanus tried to set himself up as Tiberius’s next heir by assassinating Tiberius’s son. Tiberius, of course, called for the death of not only Sejanus, but of those who were associated with him—including his children.
It seems likely, too, that much of his bad reputation comes from his connection to Caligula, who you’ll hear much more of later.
Caracalla, 211-217 CE
For the first 13 years of his reign, Caracalla ruled as a co-emperor alongside first his father, Septimius Severus, and then his brother, Geta. In 211 CE, he had his brother assassinated by the loyal members of his Praetorian Guard. Not satisfied, Caracalla went a step further to slaughter most of his brother’s supporters as well. In a further act of insult, Caracalla removed Geta’s image from paintings, coins, and statues, struck him from record, and made it an actual crime to utter his name.
On top of being generally regarded as a tyrannical and cruel emperor, Caracalla wasn’t all that effective in other aspects of his rule. He put into effect an edict which declared all free inhabitants of the Empire to be official citizens… so he could collect taxes from a wider base of people. He depleted much of the Empire’s funds trying to keep his army happy and often engaged in ruthless and unnecessary military campaigns.
Caracalla had an obsession with Alexander the Great, and in a fit of erratic behavior went on to persecute those philosophers of the Aristotelian school based solely off the legend that Aristotle poisoned Alexander. His behavior only got worse when, after discovering a play mocking him in the city of Alexandria, he dispatched his troops to massacre, loot, and plunder the city.
In 217 AD, Caracalla was stabbed to death by a defected soldier—an almost ironic end, considering his adoration for his own army.
Maximinus Thrax, 235-238 CE
Emperor Maximinus Thrax was a very large man, and he was also largely hated. In direct contrast to Emperor Diocletian, he’s often considered to be the ruler who caused the Crisis of the Third Century. He brought Rome to near ruin with his exhaustive military campaigns, overextending his soldiers by dispatching them to multiple fronts at once.
His distrust and distaste for anyone apart from his army did him no favors and caused social instability. Maximinus even had members of his own family put to death. He was a man who preferred to rule by conquest rather than favor and became known for wrecking public property and setting fires to any village he passed through.
His short three-year rule ended in 238 CE, when members of the Imperial Roman army assassinated him alongside his son and advisors.
Nero, 54-68 CE
Nero’s 14-year reign had some significant successes, including the negotiation of peace with the Parthian Empire and the quelling of Boudica’s revolt. While the upper class considered him overly extravagant and undignified, the lower classes of Rome actually had a strong positive opinion towards their ruler. This was true despite the fact that some of his methods leaned toward tyrannical madness. Seeing as he was only 16 years old when he took the throne, that’s not all that surprising—adolescence is hard.
In the beginning of his reign, Nero’s rule was closely guided by his mother, Agrippina the Younger, much as she had orchestrated Nero’s rise as emperor. Agrippina married his great-uncle and previous emperor, Claudius, and arranged for Nero to marry his new stepsister, Octavia. By 59 CE, an unexplained falling out caused Nero to order his troops to have her killed. This wouldn’t be the last time he organized a death.
In 62 CE, Nero divorced Octavia, citing that she was incapable of producing an heir. When his subjects looked negatively at this decision, he had Octavia exiled. Not long after that—either to further change public opinion or to solidify his claim to the throne—he accused her of adultery and had her put to death. His second wife, Poppaea Sabina, died in 65 CE. Some writers of ancient times say that Nero was responsible for this death, too, though others disagree.
Nero’s legacy as a madman is most closely tied to the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, which completely destroyed three of Rome’s 14 districts, leaving another seven heavily damaged. Many myths surround the terrible tragedy which killed hundreds of citizens, including the dramatically evil story of Nero fiddling as Rome fell to ashes.
In actuality, the fiddle wasn’t even in existence at the time. While some classical sources cite that Nero was on the roof of his palace singing from “The Sack of Ilium,” others place him dozens of miles away from the flames.
While it’s impossible to know the truth of the fire’s origins, many people blamed Nero directly for the destruction. It was believed that he was intentionally making way for a new city aesthetic. Whether out of genuine belief or a desperate attempt at scapegoating, Nero blamed the fire on followers of the growing Christian religion.
Nero set out to cruelly persecute the Christians, implementing an array of creative tortures and deaths, including wrapping them in animal skins to be torn apart by dogs.
After that, Nero’s rule started to crumble. Reconstruction efforts had stretched the Roman currency thin, and Nero’s indecision in dealing with further revolts caused widespread instability. In 68, his Praetorian Guard renounced their loyalty and declared Nero an enemy of the people. In one last dramatic flair, Nero committed suicide before he could be executed.
Caligula, 37-41 CE
There aren’t many reliable surviving accounts of Caligula’s reign. Even if the myriad stories surrounding him are fabrications, he’d have to be pretty unpopular to generate that kind of libel in the first place.
To be fair, Caligula had a bit of a rough start in life. He was the sole survivor after his entire family perished either in imprisonment or directly at the hands of Emperor Tiberius. He was then taken in by the emperor and indulged in all of his worst whims, until Tiberius passed and Caligula took to the throne at 25 years old.
In the first six months of his rule, things actually went pretty well. He cut unfair taxes, recalled those sentenced to exile, and granted military bonuses to soldiers. However, after a strange illness overtook him, his recovery was shrouded in a madness that gave way to sadistic and perverse tendencies. He became known for uttering the phrase, “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”
Any perceived mockery from his subjects was met with the punishment of death. In fact, in his infinite paranoia, Caligula began sending those closest to him off to exile or death—including his adopted son. His cruelty led to him gaining a sense of satisfaction out of making parents watch as their children were killed.
His arrogance rose to new heights as he declared that he was an actual living god. Caligula even had the heads of statues of gods and goddesses replaced with his own.
Further accounts of his insanity include throwing an entire section of a gladiatorial audience into the arena to be eaten by beasts for his own amusement, planning to appoint his horse as a consul, and turning the palace into a veritable brothel.
Caligula was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard after only four years as emperor. The man was so hated by the Senate that they even rallied to have him erased from the record of Roman history. Thanks to this campaign, it remains unclear to this day what is fact and what is fiction in the Caligulan reign.
Commodus, 180-192 CE
Commodus was appointed as a co-ruler by his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in 177 CE. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 CE, leaving his narcissistic and self-indulgent son as the sole Emperor of Rome.
Because Caligula couldn’t be the only one to have all the fun, Commodus also thought himself to be a god, referring to himself as Hercules reborn and forcing others to follow suit. He swanned around the city in lion skins and participated in gladiatorial events—an act in which was considered scandalous for a ruler to partake.
What’s worse: He often chose to compete against weak soldiers who were sickly or maimed from the war, sometimes tying two of them together to club them to death with a single strike. To add insult to the already grave injury, he also exorbitantly charged Rome for his arena appearances.
Commodus’s self-love knew no bounds. He changed the calendar months to reflect his own self-bestowed epithets. He shamelessly exiled and executed his wife and proudly kept a harem of hundreds. He forced his advisors to take the fall for political blunders and had entire families slaughtered on suspicion of conspiracy.
One of the Army’s biggest modernization programs is the development of the “future armed reconnaissance aircraft,” a new recon aircraft that would take, roughly, the place of the retired OH-58 Kiowa, but would actually be much more capable than anything the Army has fielded before.
An S-97 Raider, a small and fast compound helicopter, flies in this promotional image from Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky.
First, the service isn’t necessarily looking for a new helicopter, and it’s not even necessarily looking to directly replace the Kiowa. That’s because the Army’s doctrine has significantly changed since it last shopped for a reconnaissance aircraft. Instead, the Army wants something that can support operations across the land, air, and sea. If the best option is a helicopter, great, but tilt-rotors are definitely in the mix.
Maybe most importantly, it needs to be able to operate in cities, hiding in “urban canyons,” the gaps between buildings. Enemy radar would find it hard to detect and attack aircraft in these canyons, allowing aircraft that can navigate them to move through contested territory with less risk. As part of this requirement, the aircraft needs to have a maximum 40-foot rotor diameter and fuselage width.
Anything over that would put crews at enormous risk when attempting to navigate tight skylines.
And the Army wants it to be fast, reaching speeds somewhere between 180 and 205 knots, far faster than the 130 knots the Kiowa could fly.
While there’s no stated requirement for the next scout to have stealth capabilities, scouts always want to stay sneaky and getting howitzers and rockets on the ground to take out your targets is much more stealthy than firing your own weapons. But another great option is having another, unmanned aircraft take the shot or laze the target, that’s why the final aircraft is expected to work well with drones.
A soldier launches a Puma drone during an exercise. The future FARA aircraft will be able to coordinate the actions of drones if the Army gets its
(U.S. Army Spc. Dustin D. Biven)
The pilots could conduct the actions of unmanned aerial vehicles that would also need to be able to operate without runways and in tight spaces. This would increase the area that a single helicopter pilot or crew can search, stalk, and attack. With the drones, helicopter, and artillery all working together, they should be able to breach enemy air defenses and open a lane for follow-on attackers.
The Bell V-280 Valor is a strong contender to be the Army’s next medium-lift aircraft, but is much too large for the FARA competition.
There are few aircraft currently in the hopper that could fulfill the Army’s vision. That’s why the Army is looking to accept design proposals and then go into a competitive process. The first prototypes would start flying in the 2020s.
But there are currently flying aircraft that could become competitive with just a little re-working. The Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant is a prototype competing in the Army’s future vertical lift fly off. It’s little sister is the S-97 Raider, a seemingly good option for FARA right out of the box.
An S-97 Raider, widely seen as an obvious contender for the future armed reconnaissance attack program, flies through a narrow canyon in a promotional graphic.
But other manufacturers will certainly throw their hats in the ring, and Bell could advance a new design for the requirement.
The Army is keen to make sure the aircraft is built on proven technologies, though. It has failed to get a final product out of its last three attempts to buy a reconnaissance helicopter. With the Kiowas already retired and expensive Apaches filling the role, Apaches that will have lots of other jobs in a full war, there’s real pressure to make sure this program doesn’t fail and is done quickly.
Ultimately, though, it’s not up to just the Army. While the Army is expected to be the largest purchaser of helicopters in the coming years, replacing a massive fleet of aircraft, the overall future of vertical lift program is at the Department of Defense-level. The Army will have a lot of say, but not necessarily the final decision. That means the Secretary of Defense can re-stack the Army’s priorities to purchase medium-lift before recon, but that seems unlikely given the complete absence of a proper vertical lift reconnaissance aircraft in the military.
During World War II, the infamous German General Erwin Rommel once said, “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world.” Maoris were descended from Eastern Polynesians who canoed all the way from Polynesia to New Zealand in the 13th century. That’s a distance of at least 900 miles. They canoed 900 miles.
So if that’s not enough to give you an indication of how terribly awesome they are, there’s the haka:
The haka is a foot-stomping, tongue lashing, rhythmic dance performed by warriors to intimidate their enemies and proclaim their strength before the gods. It has become more widely known around the world because New Zealand sports teams perform a haka before meeting their opposition on the field.
Modern militaries also perform the haka, and we’ve got some of the best right here, ranked by how intense they are:
Prince Harry performs haka during day with NZ military
The Duke of Sussex paid his respects to the people of New Zealand with a haka and you can just see the concentration on this face. I’m no mind-reader, but I have no doubt his inner monologue reads “don’t f*** up don’t f*** up don’t f*** up.”
1. 2/1 RNZIR Battalion bids farewell to fallen comrades
“This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit’s parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time,” wrote the NZ Defence Force.
This is a pretty powerful way to say goodbye.
Now just imagine if a whole battalion did that before a fight. It’d be unsettling at the very least. And it was. In the fall of 1942, the 28th Maori Battalion played a pivotal role in the Second Battle of El Alamein, which would mark the culmination of the North African Campaign. Rommel’s defeat forced him to withdraw to Tunisia, where the Germans would surrender the following spring. After encountering the Maori, Rommel had nothing but praise for the fierce warriors.
As an American, this ritual could seem….strange — but that’s kind of the point. The haka was meant to freak out the enemy. It challenged opponents and displayed a tribe’s pride, strength, and unity.
It is a full-body masterpiece of movement and shouts. The details are fascinating, including showing the whites of the eyes, sticking out the tongue, slapping thighs and stomping, and chanting — and as you can see, these guys take it very seriously.
These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.
But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.
Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).
After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.