Iraqi forces “swiftly and thoroughly” ejected ISIS fighters from Al Qaim — a city at the western edge of Iraq’s Anbar province and the terrorist group’s last stronghold on the Iraq-Syria border — in early November.
ISIS has lost most of the land it once held and has largely disappeared as an organized fighting force. All that’s left of the group’s so-called caliphate, which once stretched from northwest Syria to the edges of Baghdad, is chunks of territory along the Euphrates River in Iraq and Syria.
For the close to 1,000 US Marines assisting Iraqi forces in the area, the campaign has led them back to familiar terrain to continue the fight against an enemy that appears set to evolve into a different kind of threat.
“Marines, in particular, understand western Iraq,” Marine Corps. Brig Gen. Robert Sofge told Marine Corps Times this month — an area Sofge called “old stomping grounds” for US Marines.
“We spent most folks’ career there and there are relationships there that endure,” Sofge said. “Even while priorities may shift in and around [US Central Command], that doesn’t make what’s going in Anbar [province] less important.”
ISIS fighters have mostly withdrawn from Iraqi cities, Sofge said, but a Marine Corps task force is still in the area assisting Iraqi forces around Al Qaim with airstrikes and artillery support, as well as with intelligence and surveillance. But the expanse of empty desert in Anbar presents its own challenges in a new phase of the anti-ISIS effort.
Clearing and holding territory recaptured in Anbar will be “much more challenging,” said Marine Corps Col. Seth Folsom, commander Task Force Lion, which oversaw fighting in Al Qaim.
Folsom told the Associated Press that it was easy to motivate troops to fight to regain their country. “What’s less easy to motivate men to do, is to stand duty on checkpoints,” he said.
Added to that challenge is the potential for a shift to irregular warfare.
“We believe that the enemy is in the deserts and also fading into the civilian population,” Sofge told Marine Corps Times. “There’s still a great deal of work to be done, even if it’s not against traditional formations in the cities.”
Sofge said the remnants of ISIS in the area have yet to adopt insurgent tactics that Al Qaeda, the group’s predecessor in Iraq, used against US personnel and Iraqis in the mid- and late-2000s. Marines on the ground there are not advising Iraqi forces on counterinsurgency tactics because such operations are not being conducted.
‘It’s quiet before the storm’
Resources in Anbar are stretched increasingly thin among a growing number of coalition troops stationed in the area.
Marines in Al Qaim ration water, according to the AP, while water-shortage notices adorn bathrooms and showers at Al Asad, the coalition’s main base in the province. Weather conditions and a lack of Iraqi escorts often delay supply convoys dispatched to outposts in Anbar.
Unlike coalition forces in northern Iraq, forces in western Iraq now also face the “tyranny of distance” as a complicating factor for their operations, Folsom told the AP.
A Marine staff sergeant who was in Anbar in 2007 told the AP that while mood among US personnel after ISIS’ ouster was one of accomplishment but not of finality. He said that while he initially didn’t think he’d be back, he now expects US forces to be there for generations.
“When my son joins the Marines, he’ll probably be deployed to Iraq,” he said with a laugh.
Some Iraqis in the area are anxious about things to come.
In Fallujah, a city in eastern Anbar that became a flashpoint for sectarian tensions and insurgent fighting during the US occupation in the 2000s, the mood remains tense, as Sunni-Shiite tension simmer.
While ISIS’ ouster has brought Iraq together in some ways, the success of the campaign has allowed old divisions to resurface in some parts of the country. At an military outpost in Fallujah, Iraqi Col. Muhammad Abdulla said the local population, largely Sunni in a Shiite-majority country, remained wary of the central government, which has been dominated by Shiite officials in the post-Saddam era.
Some in the area were still sympathetic to extremists, while others doubt US or Iraqi forces can protect them, leading most to not cooperate, Abdulla said.
“We say it’s quiet before the storm,” Sheikh Talib Hasnawi Aiffan, head of the Fallujah District Council, told Ben Kesling, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was stationed in Fallujah as a Marine lieutenant in 2007.
“We are scared,” Aiffan told Kesling. “We have experienced it before.”
This week, nearly 10 years after he was killed in combat operations in Iraq, U.S. forces brought home the remains of F-16 pilot Maj. Troy Gilbert, who died saving the lives of U.S. service members and coalition allies.
On Nov. 27, 2006, Gilbert and his wingman were flying back to base when they got the call that an AH-6 Little Bird helicopter had been shot down. Enemy insurgents had the crew, along with the coalition forces called in to support, outnumbered and pinned down.
With little fuel left, the two F-16 pilots changed course and headed to the hotly contested warzone just outside of Taji, Iraq. Due to fuel limitations, the pilots were forced to take turns refueling and providing air support to the troops under fire. By the time Gilbert was able to make his first approach, the calls for support had grown more urgent. Insurgents attacked with truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars.
Gilbert, a friendly Texas Tech graduate dubbed “Trojan” by his fellow aviators, acted quickly and aggressively. To avoid causing civilian casualties by dropping the bombs he carried under his wings, he opted for low-altitude strafing passes using his 20-milimeter Gatling gun. Gilbert made his first pass, destroying one truck and dispersing the others which were almost upon the friendly forces 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. Keeping his eye on the enemy targets moving at high speed, he conducted a second pass from an even lower altitude.
He continued firing on the enemy forces during a dynamic and difficult flight profile, impacting the ground at high speed on the second pass. Reports say the crash killed him instantly. However, Al Qaeda insurgents took Gilbert’s body before U.S. forces were able to get to the scene, leading to 10 long years of a family waiting for their husband, father, son and brother to come home.
He was survived by his wife Ginger Gilbert Ravella, sons Boston and Greyson, and daughters Isabella, Aspen and Annalise.
In a letter to Gilbert’s wife from the Army element commander whose troops the F-16 pilot was supporting that day, the commander wrote that Gilbert saved his unit from “almost certain disaster” as insurgents prepared to attack their position with mortars.
“With no ability to protect ourselves on the desert floor, we most certainly would have sustained heavy casualties,” he wrote. “Troy, however, stopped that from happening. His amazing display of bravery and tenacity immediately broke up the enemy formation and caused them to flee in panic. My men and I will never forget the ultimate sacrifice your husband made for me and my men on Nov. 27th, and we will always be in his debt.”
“Major Gilbert’s motivation to succeed saved the lives of the helicopter crew and other coalition ground forces,” then-president of the accident investigation board and current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in his safety report.Goldfein saluted as Gilbert’s remains were solemnly carried from the C-17 that brought him home this week.
Also on hand was Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander. Rand regarded Gilbert as a friend, first meeting him when he was an F-16 pilot at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and eventually crossing paths again when Gilbert became his executive officer at Luke. The relationship continued when Gilbert served under Rand’s command in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq in 2006.
“Troy fought like a tiger in battle that day,” Rand said. “No doubt, his actions on Nov. 27, 2006 illustrate greatness, but those actions that day aren’t what made him great. What made him great was his commitment to adhere in every facet of his life to our three treasured core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”
Rand recalled how Gilbert spent much of his off-duty time at Balad volunteering in the base hospital or supporting the unit chapel. He said base medics were so overcome by Gilbert’s death that they came to see him, asking if they could name a wing of the hospital after him, and enlisted groups petitioned to have the Balad Air Base chapel annex renamed “Troy’s Place.”
Following the accident, U.S. forces recovered DNA which provided enough information to positively identify Gilbert. His funeral, with full military honors, followed Dec. 11, 2006 at Arlington National Cemetery. In September 2012, some additional, but very limited, remains were recovered and interred during a second service Dec. 11, 2013.
Then, on Aug. 28, an Iraqi tribal leader approached a U.S. military advisor near al Taqaddam, Iraq, and produced what he claimed to be evidence of the remains of a U.S. military pilot who had crashed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Iraqi said he was a representative of his tribe, which had the remains and the flight gear the pilot was wearing when he went down.
The tribal leader turned over the evidence to the U.S. advisor who immediately provided it to U.S. experts for testing at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. AFMES confirmed the evidence Sept. 7 through DNA testing.
With this verification, U.S. military advisors in Iraq reengaged the tribal leader who subsequently turned over the remains, including a U.S. flight suit, flight jacket and parachute harness.
Gilbert’s remains, promptly prepared for return to the U.S. for testing, arrived Oct. 3 at Dover AFB. Airmen at Dover conducted a dignified transfer upon arrival at the base, which was attended by Gilbert’s family, base officials and senior Air Force leaders, to include the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Goldfein, Rand, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.
AFMES confirmed Oct. 4 through dental examination and DNA testing that all remains received were those of Maj. Gilbert. His lost remains had been recovered and fully repatriated.
“First and foremost I want say God is forever faithful,” Gilbert Ravella said. “He was good whether this recovery ever happened or not. But we praise Him, in His infinite mercies, for granting us this miracle after almost 10 years of waiting, hoping and praying.
“Second, I want to thank not only the brave Special Operations Forces that ultimately found Troy’s body but also each and every single Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine who searched or supported the recovery mission during these last 10 years,” she said. “As each of them put on the uniform and gave their best efforts, not fully knowing if they made a difference, I can assure them that they laid the stepping stones which led to this final victory. Justice was served.
James also praised the unwavering commitment of those who endeavored to bring the fallen fighter pilot back to U.S. soil.
“We are grateful to all those within the U.S. military, the U.S. government and beyond who never gave up and worked so hard to help return this American hero home to his final resting place,” James said. “As an Air Force, we are absolutely committed to leaving no Airman behind and to honoring the memory of warriors like Maj. Gilbert who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.”
Goldfein echoed James’ sentiments saying Gilbert represented the best ideals of America’s Airmen.
“As an Air Force officer, husband and father, Troy Gilbert truly represented what being an Airman is all about,” Goldfein said. “He was committed to serving his country, his team and his family in everything he did. On the day he died, he characteristically put service before self when he answered the short-notice call to support coalition ground forces who had come under attack. He put his own safety aside and saved many lives that day.”
Now, finally, a decade later, Gilbert has returned to the country he so valiantly served. At the request of his family, his remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in the coming months along with the remains originally recovered in 2006 and 2012.
“The memory of my five children watching their father’s flag-draped transfer case being unloaded from the cargo hold and carried by his brothers-in-arms back to American soil renews my hope for all mankind,” said Gilbert Ravella. “Attending the dignified transfer at Dover Monday night was the closest we have been to Troy in 10 years. That was bittersweet.
“However, the memory of his sacrificial selflessness, his passionate love for Jesus Christ, his devotion to his family and to his beloved country echoed in their footsteps long after the transport vehicle drove him away,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart I want everyone to know how grateful the kids and I have been for your years of prayers. There is no doubt they reached the very ears of God.”
“As our military promised, no one was left behind on the field of battle,” Gilbert Ravella said. “Troy is home.”
Total devastation. No power. No running water. The scene on the ground at Tyndall Air Force Base was a grim, ‘post-apocalyptic’ one when a five man team from Keesler AFB’s 85th Engineering Installation Squadron arrived in mid-October 2018, just days after Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Michael was the strongest storm to hit Florida in nearly a century. Tyndall Air Force Base took a direct hit, resulting in catastrophic infrastructure damage.
“The closer we got to Tyndall, there was more and more devastation. All the trees were snapped and laid over, buildings completely devastated with no power, no clean water, when we first got to the base,” said Capt. Nathan McWhirter, 85th EIS operations flight commander.
Quickly getting to work, the engineering team began assessing the buildings for any useable equipment and materials to get base communications up and running.
“We were doing all of our inspections using headlamps and hard hats, going into these buildings that are completely gutted. It looked like a complete war zone honestly,” he said. “We were one of the first teams on base, so there were very few people here at the time too. It was kind of eerie and surreal surveying some of these buildings.”
Despite the power outages and limited communication material, the crew has been able to successfully restore connectivity and avenues of communication around base. The engineering team has been able to get the base-wide ‘giant voice’ mass notification system up and running, as well as patching up new antennae’s and fiber work to get air to ground communications connected. The biggest challenge to completing these projects McWhirter said, was the lack of usable equipment and lack of power.
Tech. Sgt. Skyler Shull, Airman Hunter Benson and Staff Sgt. Charlie Hegwer, 85th Engineer Installation Squadron, install three recycled antennaes on fabricated mounts for the Tyndall Enterprise Live Mission Operations Center facility at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 2, 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
“The hurricane knocked out all sorts of antennae’s so we’ve been scrounging around, taking them off damaged towers and putting them on good towers. There’s no material here, so we are just trying to salvage what we can,” he said.
“A lot of the buildings don’t have power still so that’s a big limiter. [Civil engineering] is working super hard and trying to do it smartly. We don’t want to turn power on to a building that’s been destroyed and risk having a fire,” McWhirter added. “We are trying to work on relocating these large communication nodules safely and cost effectively.”
Although it has a long way to go before it’s fully functional again, McWhirter said the base has come a long way in the short amount of time their team has been there. A tent city has been set up, with places to sleep and hot meals being provided, as well as clean water for bathing and drinking, making life easier for the on the ground reconstruction teams and returning personnel.
“More and more people started coming in, we were able to bring more and more assets in,” he explained. “Just seeing the difference from when were first got here to today, is remarkable. There is still obviously tons of work that needs to be done, but just in these short couple of weeks things have gotten way better.”
As the team prepares to transition back to Keesler AFB, conditions at Tyndall AFB have improved dramatically. More and more resources and personnel are arriving, all dedicated to bringing Tyndall AFB back to life. While they were just one piece of the overall restoration effort, McWhirter acknowledges that his team played a key role in the early recovery efforts.
“I just want to say how proud I am of my team and the work they are doing and the support we are getting back home from the 85th EIS and the 81st Training Wing; getting us out the door quickly and making sure we have everything that we need,” said McWhirter. “The guys out here are really killing it and I’m proud to be part of a restoral effort. This is unprecedented thing to be able to build up a base that’s been devastated. We’ve come a long way.”
A relatively new weapon to combat the enemy is being used in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. It’s been around a little more than a decade and fits into the counterinsurgency warfare necessity of being able to identify who the enemy is by person versus just identifying an enemy organization.
The Afghanistan Captured Material Exploitation Laboratory is aiding combat commanders in their need to know who is building and setting off the enemy’s choice weapon — Improvised Explosive Devices. With this positive identification of enemy personnel, coalition units working within NATO’s Resolute Support mission can then hunt down the enemy for detention or destroy if need be.
“The commanders are starting to understand it more and seeing the capability and asset it provides,” said Kim Perusse, incoming ACME lab manager at BAF.
Perusse said commanders are embracing it and wanting more forensics exploitation.
Personnel from ACME deploy from the Forensic Exploitation Directorate which is part of the Defense Forensics Science Center located at the Gillem Enclave, Forest Park, Ga. DFSC also contains the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, and the Office of Quality Initiatives and Training.
Shown is an RFT2 device which consists of a CWC-11 A/0 receiver module with a custom switching circuit. The RFT2 functions as a receiver and switch of IED’s initiators.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
The DFSC’s mission is to provide full-service forensic support — traditional, expeditionary, and reachback — to Army and Department of Defense entities worldwide; to provide specialized forensic training and research capabilities; serve as executive agent for DOD Convicted Offender DNA Databasing Program; and to provide forensic support to other federal departments and agencies when appropriate, its website stated.
ACME provides forensic/technical intelligence, analysis, and exploitation of captured enemy material. The findings are then provided to coalition forces and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to counter the IED threat, attack the counterinsurgent networks, advise the Afghanistan government’s exploitation labs, and provide prosecutorial support to the Afghan justice system, an ACME slide presentation stated.
ACME capabilities include latent print examination; explosive/drug chemistry; electronic engineering; explosive triage; DNA; firearm/toolmark analysis; weapons technical intelligence analysis; and, provide assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security, and Afghan National Security Forces.
Triage, the first stop for all evidence, tests an unknown substance on the HazMatID for any hazards.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
As part of employment with DFSC, FXD, personnel must deploy every 18 months to a deployed lab for six months, as there are currently two, one here and one in Kuwait.
The Forensic Exploitation Laboratory — CENTCOM in Kuwait supports military operations in Iraq and Syria, and is located at Camp Arifjan.
ACME’s primary mission “is to allow the commanders on the ground to understand who’s within the battlespace,” said Lateisha Tiller, outgoing ACME lab manager.
Whether this is people coming onto the coalition locations as part of employment or those building the IEDS, forensics exploitation results in positive identification of such individuals.
“Our mission is to identify nefarious actors that are in the CJOA [Combined/Joint Operations Area] right now,” Tiller said.
“We don’t want them putting IEDs in the road, and blowing up the road, blowing up the bridge. We want that type of activity to stop,” Tiller said. ” ‘How do you stop it?’ You identify who’s doing it; identify the network of people who’s doing it. Eliminate them from the battlespace” as evidence collected is then shared with military intelligence, she said.
X-rays are taken of all evidence in Triage to ensure no hazards such as Trojan horses are observed. This x-ray shows a pressure plate containing a hazard.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
“It’s never just one person; identify the network,” she said. By taking people out, the network “eventually is going to dismantle itself.”
“The secondary mission is the Rule of Law,” Perusse said. “Helping get the information out to the Afghans to potentially prosecute those nefarious actors that we may identify” through biometrics, chemistry, firearms, and toolmarks.
The conclusive findings and evidence — criminal activity analysis reports — is then shared with the Afghan laboratories as they work to build a case against alleged personnel who could be tried in an Afghan court.
The reports are also shared with military intelligence — U.S. and NATO — and also sent to the Justice Center in Parwan to assist in the prosecution of the enemy. The JCIP is located in the Parwan Province where BAF is located too in east-central Afghanistan.
The justice center was a joint U.S.-Afghan project to establish Afghanistan’s first national security court. Established in June 2010, the JCIP exists to ensure fair and impartial justice for those defendants alleged of committing national security crimes in the Afghan criminal justice system. Coalition forces provide technical assistance and operate in an advisory capacity.
The reports are accepted in the Afghans courts because the Afghans understand and trust the findings of ACME. “Building that alliance is absolutely part of the mission,” Tiller said. “The lines of communication are definitely open.”
The evidence room is the hub of the lab that distributes and stores the evidence while located at ACME.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
Because of this fairly new application of forensics to counterinsurgency warfare, the Afghans initially didn’t understand it, the lab managers said.
“They didn’t understand forensics. They didn’t trust it,” Perusse said. “Especially DNA, it was like magic to them.”
But as she explained, the U.S. also took a long time to accept DNA as factual and evidential versus something like latent prints. Latent prints are impressions produced by the ridged skin, known as friction ridges, on human fingers, palms, and soles of the feet. Examiners analyze and compare latent prints to known prints of individuals in an effort to make identifications or exclusions, internet sources stated.
“Latent prints you can visualize, DNA you can’t,” she said.
The application of forensics exploitation as part of the battle plan started in the latter years Operation Iraqi Freedom, the lab managers said. OIF began in March 2003 and lasted until December 2011.
This type of warfare — counterinsurgency — required a determination of who — by person — was the enemy in an effort to combat their terrorist acts.
A latent print examiner develops a latent print on the neck of a plastic bottle with Superglue Fuming and Rhodamine 6G processing, then visualized with a forensic laser.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
“I think there was a point where the DOD realized that they weren’t utilizing forensics to help with the fight,” Tiller said.
The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not big units fighting other big units, with mass casualties, but much smaller units engaging each other with an enemy using more terrorist-like tactics of killing.
Forensics told you “who you were fighting. You kind of knew the person in a more intimate way,” Tiller said, adding, it put a face on the enemy.
Forensics exploitation goes hand-in-hand with counterinsurgency warfare, Perusse said. “They’re (Taliban/ISIS) not organized like a foreign military were in the past” but instead have individuals and groups fighting back in a shared ideology, she said.
Because of the eventual drawdown in NATO troop strength in Afghanistan, the ACME labs at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar Province, and Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, were closed and some assets were relocated to BAF’s ACME in 2013.
A DNA analyst prepares DNA samples for analysis on the Lifetech 3500XL Genetic Analyzer.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
The evidence is collected at the sites of detonation by conventional forces — explosive ordnance personnel, route clearance personnel — through personnel working in the Ministry of Interior’s National Directorate of Security, and other Afghan partners, Perusse said.
From January 2018 to December 2018, the ACME lab was responsible for:
1,145 cases processed based on 36,667 individual exhibits
3,402 latent prints uploaded; 69 associations made from unknown to known
3,090 DNA profiles uploaded; 59 unique identifications made from unknown to known
Adding credibility to ACME was that it became accredited by the International Organization of Standard in 2015. Both lab managers said they believe that ACME is probably the only deployed Defense Department lab accredited — besides the FXL-C in Kuwait — in the forensics field.
Forensic chemist conducts a single-step extraction to prepare the samples for analysis by Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations comprised of members from 168 countries. It is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards and facilitates world trade by providing common standards between nations. It was founded in 1947.
Tiller and Perusse said this accreditation is quite meaningful, personally and professionally.
Interestingly, both lab managers offer extensive deployment experience to the ACME lab.
Tiller has deployed four times for FXD — three times to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait — for a total of 26 months. Likewise, Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience too with FXD, with now four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait. And, because of mission requirements, no rest and relaxation periods — vacations — are allowed during their deployments. The reason is because most positions are one-person deep and the mission cannot continue without all sections working collectively, they said.
Currently, there are 17 people working at the BAF ACME lab.
FXD’s mandatory deployment policy can be viewed as positive and negative depending on a person’s particular situation.
An electronic exploitation examiner uses the Advanced Aggregate Data Extractor test equipment to perform testing on an RFT2 device. The AADE produces the following tests: Filter Analyzer, Emissions Analyzer, Peak Harmonic Distortion and Bit Error Rate.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
As Perusse points out, there are plenty of other places to work that do not require mandatory deployments which require forensic skills such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security to name several.
So those who do work at ACME do so because they want to be.
“There is nowhere else in the world where you’re going to get a [final] forensic result of the quality that you’re going to get from the ACME as quickly as you do,” Tiller said, which often brings immediate gratification to one’s work.
Whether it’s producing a DNA profile or finding a latent print on some material, finding this evidence within two days is a big reason why people at ACME find their work rewarding.
“It happens nowhere else,” Tiller said, describing it as the “ultimate satisfaction,” knowing the evidence produced will ultimately save lives.
Shown are incoming ACME lab manager Kim Perusse (left) and outgoing ACME lab manager Lateisha Tiller. Tiller has deployed four times for FXD for a total of 26 months. Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience with FXD, with four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait.
(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)
As Perusse put it, there is no place like ACME’s lab in Afghanistan.
“We are in war zone. We are around everything, we get IDFed,” she said, referencing the periodic indirect fire of mortar attacks at BAF. She said it is much different type of deployment than at the Kuwait lab where examiners can “have more freedom to include going into the city and shop at the mall.”
“There’s a reason why we’re doing this,” Perusse said, of identifying the enemy, which leads to saving lives and helping the NATO coalition.
“It’s very powerful to be able to see that and be with the people who are going out the field and risking their lives,” she said of those who look for and submit items for evidence.
As Tiller redeploys back to her normal duty station in Georgia, she knows ACME will continue in experienced hands with Perusse who will now take over as lab manager for a third time.
The Marine Corps has reached another acquisition milestone decision by gaining approval for full-rate production of the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar system from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition on May 23, 2019. The G/ATOR system combines five legacy radar systems into a single, modernized solution with multiple operational capabilities, providing Marines with comprehensive situational awareness of everything in the sky.
“G/ATOR is a phenomenal capability that lends itself to warfighting dominance for years to come,” said John Campoli, program manager for Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar program office at Program Executive Officer Land Systems. “We’ve received tremendous positive feedback from Marines on the system, and are excited to get this capability to warfighters across the MAGTF.”
G/ATOR provides real-time radar measurement data to the Common Aviation Command and Control System, Composite Tracking Network, and Advanced Field Artillery Data System. All G/ATOR systems share a common hardware and operating system software baseline to satisfy the warfighter’s expeditionary needs across the MAGTF with a single solution.
U.S. Marines set up the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar system on Feb. 26, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Leo Amaro)
The highly expeditionary, three-dimensional, short-to-medium-range multi-role radar system is designed to detect, identify and track cruise missiles, manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as rockets, mortars and artillery fire. The Corps started fielding G/ATOR to Marines in 2018, reaching initial operational capability for air defense and surveillance missions in February 2018 and counter-fire and counterbattery missions in March 2019.
As previously reported, G/ATOR is being developed and fielded in three blocks that will support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force across the range of its capabilities. Block 1 — which began fielding a year ago — provides air defense and surveillance capabilities; Block 2 supports MAGTF counter-fire and counterbattery missions; and Block 4 — a future iteration — will provide expeditionary airport surveillance radar capabilities to the MAGTF. With this full-rate production decision, the Corps will procure 30 additional G/ATOR units.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
Israel’s military said on July 24, 2018, that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and “intercepted” a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.
The plane crashed in Syria near the country’s border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, The New York Times reported. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.
For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.
Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel in early 2018 destroying much of Syria’s anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.
The Israel Defense Forces said a Russian-made Syrian jet “infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace” before being intercepted.
“Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force’s activity,” the IDF added. “The IDF is in high alert and will continue to operate against the violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement,” the UN resolution that ended the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Syria.
Featured Image: A Sukhoi Su-24M of the Russian Air Force.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. (Wikimedia Commons)
Proposed amendments to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange — measures that, if approved, would provide health care and disability benefits to roughly 22,000 affected veterans.
The House and Senate amendments, proposed by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the VA’s list of 14 conditions considered related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine deemed the three named diseases to be associated with exposure to defoliants used during the war.
But the proposals do not include hypertension, a condition that the Academies also linked to Agent Orange in 2018. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common among the elderly and, if included, could add more than 2 million veterans to VA disability rolls in the next 10 years, at an estimated cost of $11.2 billion to $15.2 billion, according to department estimates.
Thirty veteran and military groups have backed the proposals and asked congressional leaders to do the same.
On Tuesday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America and 27 other groups wrote House and Senate leaders urging them to get behind the provisions.
“We call on you to lead and pass House Amendment 264 into law and end the waiting for many of our nation’s ill veterans so they can receive disability benefits,” stated letters sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“There is more work to be done to care for those who are ill from toxic exposures, including adopting hypertension as a presumptive disease … but with your leadership, tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans will receive their benefits and justice,” they wrote.
A decision on whether to add the three conditions has been delayed since 2017, when then-VA Secretary David Shulkin expressed support for including them but never formally announced his decision.
According to internal VA documents, Shulkin had been on the verge of including the three conditions when the Office of Management and Budget and other White House officials objected, citing what they called “limited scientific evidence” and cost.
Meanwhile, thousands of veterans have waited.
“Vietnam vets have been waiting for this for decades, and it’s a national shame that it’s not fixed yet,” Harder told Military.com. “We have a real chance here to make this right after all this time, and we should seize the opportunity.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers late last year he wants the results of two studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — to be reviewed for publication before announcing a decision on whether to broaden the presumptives list.
But lawmakers and advocacy groups have balked at the delay.
“This is something we are still fighting after how many decades from the Vietnam War?” asked Corey Titus, director of veterans benefits and Guard/reserve affairs at MOAA. “We should be making sure there aren’t any service members with illnesses who aren’t getting the care and benefits they earned.”
In February, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to “take corrective action” and add all four diseases to the list, including hypertension.
“Your administration has the ability to add these conditions to the presumptive list and provide lifesaving benefits to more than 190,000 veterans. Without your action, tens of thousands of sick and aging veterans will continue to go without VA resources and health care in their time of need,” he wrote.
The letter was signed by 77 members, all Democrats.
While hypertension is not included in the proposed amendment, the coalition of veterans and military organizations pledged to continue working on adopting it as a “presumptive disease as linked by the National Academies.”
“This needs to be covered as well. This is not something that we will forget — hypertension,” Titus said.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have both passed their versions of the fiscal 2021 defense bill and forwarded them to their respective chambers for consideration. Currently, committees are weighing the rules for amending and deliberating the bills before they move ahead for debate.
Both Harder and Tester’s proposals must make it through that process before coming up for a vote.
A legislative source said Tester’s amendment has been identified for a vote.
“With a bipartisan team of lawmakers and the support of the entire veterans community, we have a strong chance to finally get this done,” Harder said.
Four Chinese Navy ships have departed for joint drills with Russia in the latest sign of growing cooperation between the two militaries that could challenge the US armed forces’ role in the Asia-Pacific.
A destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship, and submarine rescue ship departed Sept. 13 from the port of Qingdao, home to China’s North Sea fleet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The drills are being held in the Sea of Japan near the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Xinhua said.
The exercises are the second stage of an annual joint drill, the first part of which was held July 22-27 in the Baltic Sea — the first time the countries had exercised together in the northern European waterbody.
Russia and China are closely aligned on many diplomatic and security issues, with both countries calling for a negotiated settlement of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, preceded by North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities in return for the US and South Korea halting their regular large-scale wargames.
July’s joint drills in the Baltic stirred concern among countries in the region, where tensions are already high over increased displays of military force by both Moscow and NATO.
Both Russia and China say the exercises are not directed at any third parties.
The Chinese ships taking part in the exercises are among the country’s most advanced, components of a growing fleet that poses a significant challenge to the US Navy’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has long chafed at the American presence and is a strong critic of its alliances with Japan, Australia, and other countries in the region.
China already has the world’s largest navy, with slightly over 300 vessels, compared to the US Navy’s 277 “deployable battle force ships,” according to the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The US Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts it will have 313-342 warships by 2020.
While China’s ships are technologically inferior to those of the US Navy, their sheer numbers allow China a significant presence on the open sea, institute professor Andrew S. Erickson wrote in a recent study.
It appears that the military’s very own meme branch is getting its own series on Netflix on May 29. Space Force is set to star Steve Carell and will be helmed by Carell and showrunner of the American version of The Office, Greg Daniels.
In all fairness, they seem to be grasping the concept of the Space Force being a smaller entity within the DoD to protect satellites and how monotonous it will get after awhile fairly spot on. So basically, it’s The Office. In space… Office Space? Wait, no. That name’s taken…
This is awesome news for anyone else sick of hearing about Tiger King. I’ve never seen that show but through meme-mitosis, I can assume it’s about what happens in the surrounding areas of a military base. I may be desperate for entertainment, but I’m not desperate enough to see what the people at the Wal-Mart outside of Fort Sill would do with a tiger. And hopefully Space Force delivers on that.
Wil Willis knows a thing or two about weapons. He was born into a military family, served as an Army Ranger for four years, then transferred to the Air Force to become a pararescueman for another ten years. Since his time in service, he’s found ways to utilize the skills he learned on active duty as both an entertainer and an instructor.
Now an actor and writer, Willis is perhaps best known for his work on Forged in Fire, a competition series where world-class bladesmiths compete to create iconic edged weapons from history. He also teaches veterans and members of the first responder community about tactical combat casualty care.
So, yeah, he’s kind of bad ass.
U.S. Marine Weston Scott met up with Willis to connect over a past-time they both love: hitting the road on two wheels.
In this episode of “Paving the Way,” Willis and Scott hang out in their favorite Los Angeles garage working on their bikes and chatting about what it means for them to ride.
“I don’t do anything illegal. It’s not out of control. But I definitely am more aggressive than a lot of other riders. I ride every day.”
His riding style might be “fast and loose” but Willis insists it helps him slow down.
“I think being left alone with your thoughts can be scary sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a transitional period. I’ve got through it a bunch of times. Everybody’s had rough times. For me, getting back on the back was a way of slowing everything down in my mind. I do believe there’s something spiritual I get out of riding.”
Check out the episode above to find out more about why Willis rides every day, but Scott sums it up nicely: “It’s just good for the soul.”
In 2015-2016, Wagner mercenaries moved from Ukraine to Syria, Sergey Sukhankin, an associate expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv, told Business Insider in an email.
The mercenary group was contracted by Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp to capture and secure gas and oil fields by ISIS, reportedly being given 25% of the proceeds, according to the Associated Press.
Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan in early January 2018, according to Stratfor.
The Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan “in a conflict against the South Sudan” to back up Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government “militarily and hammer out beneficial conditions for the Russian companies,” Sukhankin said.
The mercenaries are also protecting gold, uranium and diamond mines, Sukhankin said, adding that the latter is the “most essential commodity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a cozy relationship with al-Bashir. The two leaders met in Moscow in late 2017, where al-Bashir asked Putin for protection from the US.
The Hague has had an arrest warrant out for al-Bashir since 2009 for crimes against humanity.
3. Central African Republic
In early January 2018, Stratfor reported that Wagner mercenaries might soon be sent to CAR, and Sukhankin said that there are now about 370 mercenaries in CAR and Sudan.
Sukhankin said that Wagner mercenaries have the same general mission in CAR — protecting lucrative mines and propping up the government regime.
In December 2017, the UN allowed Russia to begin selling weapons to the CAR, one of the many ways Moscow is trying to influence the continent. The CAR government is trying to combat violence being perpetrated by multiple armed groups along ethnic and religious lines.
“Russian instructors training our armed forces will greatly strengthen their effectiveness in combating plunderers,” President Faustin-Archange Touadera said in early April, according to RT, a Russian state-owned media outlet.
“The Russian private sector is also seeking to invest in the country’s infrastructure and education,” RT reported.
“Moscow seems more interested in filling its coffers through the Wagner deals than in preparing for a massive investment drive [in Africa],” Stratfor reported.
The Wagner Group might also be operating in other countries now or in the future.
“Potentially, the Balkans if any conflict erupts,” Sukhankin said. “The Russians had sent PMC’s in 1992 to Bosnia. In case something occurs, this might happen once again.”
Wagner mercenaries might also soon be sent to Libya, one Wagner commander told RFERL in March 2018.
“There are many fights ahead,” the commander told RFERL. “Soon it will be in Libya. [Wagner] is already fighting in Sudan.”
Russia has been engaging more and more with Libya since 2016, supporting the faction led by military commander Khalifa Haftar. Meanwhile, NATO backs the the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Wagner commanders said that demand for their mercanaries will continue to grow as “war between the Russian Federation and the United States” continues, RFERL reported.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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.”