Footage of a Coast Guard drug interdiction where one Coast Guardsman jumps onto a narco-submarine and forces the hatch open has gone viral. And for good reason. It was possibly the most insane thing I’ve seen all week, but it’s actually not a shock to me. The Coast Guard does insane stuff like this all the time, but it’s never really talked about as much.
I get it, we all mock the Coasties. It’s the price you pay for being the little brother. But when you consider this, their elite snipers, and their track record for going toe-to-toe with narco-terrorists while the rest of us are stuck at NTC or 29 Palms… I think it’s time to admit that some Coasties may be more grunt than a good portion of the Armed Forces.
Just don’t be surprised when that sub-busting Coastie with balls of f*cking titanium calls you a POG at the American Legion. These memes go out to you, dude. Keep giving the Coast Guard an awesome name.
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
In case you missed the video, here’s an accurate representation of it…
The Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Airborne, (SOAR-A), has earned the nickname “The Night Stalkers.”
Operating under the cover of night or the shadows of dawn, these elite pilots are responsible for getting special operators into and out of some of their most secret and dangerous operations.
Night Stalker pilots go through rigorous training to become mission-ready to fly in the most challenging conditions, including bad weather and enemy fire, all while relying on infrared and night-vision equipment to navigate through the darkness.
While many of the 160th SOAR’s operations are secret, it’s widely understood that they were involved in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
A US Army MH-60M Blackhawk from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), June 19, 2019.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
The Night Stalkers fly a few different helicopters, including the MH-60 Black Hawk.
The 160th has over 3,200 personnel and 192 aircraft.
The Night Stalkers operate different versions of the Black Hawk, outfitted for dangerous and covert operations. In fact, all the aircraft the 160th uses are “highly modified and designed to meet the unit’s unique mission requirements,” according to the Army.
All the MH-60s the Night Stalkers use have in-air refueling capability, extending the aircraft’s ability to operate over long distances.
The Night Stalkers’s MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator (DAP) is a Black Hawk specially outfitted with an M230 30 mm automatic cannon. When the aircraft is modified to the DAP, it can move only small numbers of troops, according to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
A Navy aviation boatswain’s mate guides an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during deck landing qualifications aboard amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, April 28, 2014.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight)
The Night Stalkers also fly the MH-47 Chinook.
The 160th operates two variants of the MH-47 Chinook, a special-operations variant of the Army’s CH-47 Chinook.
The MH-47E is a heavy assault helicopter with aerial refueling capability, as well as advanced integrated avionics, an external rescue hoist, and two L714 turbine engines with Full Authority Digital Electronic Control that enables the MH-47E to operate in high-altitude or very hot environments, according to SOCOM.
The Night Stalkers fly the MH-47G Chinook as well, which has a multi-mode radar to help pilots navigate challenging conditions, as well as two M-134 “minigun” machine guns and one M-60D machine gun for defensive fire.
The MH-47 is used for a variety of operations, including infiltration and exfiltration of troops, assault operations, resupply, parachuting, and combat search and rescue.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Currier, left, an MH-60M Black Hawk pilot, and Spc. Joseph Turnage, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief, with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) in Yuma, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2017.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brennon A. Taylor)
The 160th was born out of tragedy.
The Night Stalkers were formed after the botched attempt to rescue hostages from the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, known as Operation Eagle Claw.
During that operation, eight US service members were killed, and the need for a specialized group of aviators became apparent.
The 160th was formed in 1981, composed of soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and was officially designated the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (Airborne) in 1986.
What we know as the modern 160th was officially activated in 1990.
The Night Stalkers have been active in every military operation since Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983. The unit lost pilot Michael Durant during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993.
Two MH-47G Chinooks from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment prepare for aerial refueling over California, Jan. 19, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)
The tempo of operations increased significantly after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
“At the height of Iraq, those guys were doing two to three missions a night,” a 10-year veteran of the unit with multiple tours to Afghanistan and Iraq told Insider.
“Once the mission has been accomplished, the only reward is another mission,” he said.
Once Night Stalkers are finished with a mission, “they’re not going to Disney World. They’re going back to wherever they came from. They’re going to train again.”
Night Stalker training simulates the challenging environments they’re going into, as well.
US soldiers, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), practice loading and unloading on a 160th SOAR MH-47 Chinook during sniper training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, June 22, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez)
Women in the 160th see combat too.
“It’s just not all guys. At least the 160th has female pilots. They’re rowing the boat. They’re in the battle,” the Night Stalker veteran told Insider.
A 10th Special Forces Group soldier and his military working dog jump off a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th SOAR during water training over the Gulf of Mexico, March 1, 2011.
The 160th’s motto — “Night Stalker’s Don’t Quit!” is attributed to Capt. Keith Lucas, the first Night Stalker killed in action.
“The purpose of that organization is to serve the most elite special forces in the United States,” a veteran of the unit told Insider.
“That unit’s gonna be on time, and it’s gonna fly like hell to serve the ground forces,” he said.
The Night Stalkers have a reputation of being on time within 30 seconds of every operation and say they’d rather die than quit.
The Night Stalkers’ motto — often shortened to “NSDQ!” — is vitally important to the team.
“It binds people that have been serving in that organization till now,” the veteran said. Lucas was killed in 1983, during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada.
The MH-6 Little Bird is a helicopter unique to special operations that was developed in close collaboration with special operators and combat developers.
MH-6 and AH-6 Little Birds are also part of the 160th’s fleet.
These aircraft are small and maneuverable — perfect for use in urban combat zones where pilots must fly low to the ground among buildings and city streets.
The MH-6M and AH-6M are both variants of the McDonnell Douglas 530 commercial helicopter.
The MH-6M is the utility version that can also be used for reconnaissance missions. The AH-6M is the attack version and is equipped with Foward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, which shows crewmembers an infrared video of the terrain and airspace.
Keeping your head on a swivel, eyes always on alert, and being prepared for anything are just a few of ways Marines serving in the infantry stay vigilant while forward deployed.
With the constant threat of danger lurking around every corner, many veterans use music as a way to relax and recenter; some, like John Preston, take it one step further and use music to tell their stories and encourage others not to give up hope.
During a tour in Iraq, Preston began his music career by writing the song “Good Good America,” which propelled John into the industry and landed him a record deal upon his return home.
For the next few years, John slowly veered away from music and became a firefighter — but his passion for music didn’t die out.
Luckily, he managed to return to music signing with Pacific Records and quickly released his first single “This Is War” in the fall of 2014. The song became a national media topic after a Marine veteran made a call-to-action to veterans across the nation to make a stand against ISIS.
John’s musical momentum began taking shape once again as his record label released several of his songs in the following months.
“We are taking our message to the public, and today we tell the mainstream that we are here and we are loud. The perception of the broken veteran is a myth that we refuse to buy into,” Preston tells WATM. “My music is about our lives and the real battles we have and continue to fight: on and off the battlefield. We are here to show our community and the general public our talent, work ethic, and our drive to push forward through all adversity.”
Sadly, in January of 2016, John’s brother ended his own life after a hard battle with post-traumatic stress. The action almost convinced Preston to end his music career once again but has instead fueled his passion and his new single “Superman Falls.”
Preston is an executive producer on the album, which climbed to #21 on the iTunes rock charts. The song continues to spread throughout the veteran community as well as the mainstream music scene. To check out the John Preston’s music on iTunes click here.
Currently signed with Concore Entertainment/Universal Music Group, his newest single “Before I am Gone” was released on September 5, 2017. To check out the John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
Check out John Preston’s video below to watch his behind the scenes footage.
There are plenty of lofty quarantine goals going on right now. We stand firm that using this time to start marathon training, grab a new certification or simply up your nap game are all worthy endeavors. However, there is one thing which all service members should be checking in on right now: their benefits.
Beyond the paycheck, there’s plenty of benefits offered to military personnel that way too often go unutilized. The second we can all get back to “normal” life again is the second things like “use or lose days” and tuition assistance packets should be tossed into play. We’ve conveniently outlined everything you should square away while we all know you have the time.
Use or lose days
Americans have a weird unspoken tradition of taking pride in hoarding (and never using) vacation days. “Use or lose” refers to the unused vacation days service members accrue that are carried over into the next fiscal year. Anything above 60 days of leave “in the bank” will be slapped with an expiration date, which is when you either use them by a certain date or lose them. At 2.5 days per month earned, things can add up at high tempo locations.
We’re fiercely advocating to end that weirdness right now and mandating that you book a trip to go on before the end of the year once all the travel bans are lifted, get out, and enjoy the freedom you protect. A long weekend getaway, a surf trip, or a drive down the 101 highway are all exactly what you need to recharge and show back up to work even better than before.
Tuition assistance is one of the best benefits available to service members across multiple branches. It’s not the GI Bill and it’s not a loan. Plainly put, tuition assistance is a certain dollar amount you are eligible for per semester to use toward earning college credit.
Participating universities often offer flexible online courses that can accommodate for field training, deployments and occasionally give credit for military training courses you have already completed depending on your degree.
If you’re sitting on your couch, three years into active duty and haven’t used a penny, we suggest starting. Earning a degree slowly while on active duty, all without touching your GI Bill benefits is smart.
Pay changes after a PCS
Ok so this isn’t a benefit per se, but it’s a big mistake we see made way too often that can send your finances into a death spiral that is hard to recover from. Special pay options like hazard, jump, flight or any other hardship or incentive pay you’re receiving thanks to specific circumstances don’t always transfer with you from one PCS to another.
Knowing exactly what special pay benefits will or will not transfer with you in addition to the incoming new BAH and BAS rate you fall under is essential. Why? Because nothing is worse than earning an extra few hundred dollars each month, having the military find the mistake (they will) and then having it all taken from your next paycheck leaving you with next to nothing to cover your bills.
There is no such thing as tricking the military in terms of pay. Making a mistake with your pay will never be a “my bad” situation that you benefit from. Always know exactly what you should be paid, put in the correct paperwork to stop special pay, and meticulously check your LES statements to ensure the figures are correct.
Special programs for dependents
There’s enough out there in terms of programs, scholarships, grants, loans and more that it would take an entire other article (or three) to outline, so we’ll keep it brief. Just like service members, military dependents should investigate opportunities first before tackling any educational costs out of pocket.
The Army Emergency Relief rolled out an exciting new program offering up to ,500 that spouses can apply for toward professional relicensing expenses when they PCS. Also new from AER is a Child Care Assistance Program created to help offset areas with high living expenses at up to 0 per month per family in the few months after a PCS.
Military spouses are offered preference when applying for certain DoD and other governmental jobs, including working for USDA, US Fish and Wildlife jobs and more.
The bottom line here is that when the quarantine is over, we should all emerge smarter, stronger and ready to take charge of our lives. So check your benefits and make sure you’re getting all you can out of your paychecks.
Most troops take it easy and try to finish up the last things on their checklists before leaving. For most of us, the final weeks of our military service meant it was time to clean gear, say farewells, and hand off duties to the next guy. Many other short-timers, however, mentally ETS well before crossing the finish line.
The last couple of weeks in the military are often treated as a gentle glide back into the civilian world, but some guys take it to the next level and nosedive into laziness while still wearing their uniform. If you’re looking to make the most of your lazy days, use these tips:
Just say you’re at CIF or you’re cleaning your gear for CIF. It’s enough of a pain in the ass that everyone will just accept it.
(Photo by Spc. Devona Felgar)
Do some next-level skating
This is one of the few moments in your military career where it’s perfectly acceptable to focus on you and what you’ll be doing for yourself after you’re out. In other words, treat yo’ self.
Sham, skate, and be lazy. After a long career in the service, you’ve earned it.
Then again, reminding staff duty that you’ve been gone is fun, too…
(Photo by Chief warrant Officer Daniel McGowan)
Remind everyone of your ETS date
There’s a practical aspect to this. Nobody wants to get calls from staff duty asking why you’re not there when you’ve been out for months.
So, be loud about it. Everyone in the unit should know that you’re almost at the finish line — and that they shouldn’t expect sh*t from you.
No more barracks haircuts for you!
(U.S. Army photo)
Start growing that civilian hairstyle
You can’t start growing that sick, veteran-AF beard just yet, but you can start growing your hair out.
It still needs to be within regulations, but nobody will bother getting in your face if it’s just barely acceptable.
Let some other unfortunate soul handle cleaning connexes.
Hot potato every one of your responsibilities
Before you’re gone, you’ll need to successfully hand off your responsibilities to your replacement. What better way to get them used to your workflow than by giving them all of your work?
Divert all work the expected of you from here on out. If you think about it, you’re really just helping the replacement.
Dental is unsurprisingly expensive in the real world. Get as much done as you can while you’re in.
(Photo by 1st Lt. Rashard Coaxum)
Spend all of your time at health and dental
One of the biggest regrets among veterans is not logging every single service-related pain and injury. If you get a nagging ailment it verified while you’re still in, it’s much easier to get taken care of later.
We know — this is a bit of legitimate advice in an otherwise humorous article. If you’re determined to simply waste time, swing by the aid station all day, every day.
The only hard part of the classes is staying awake.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Kocin)
Actually go to out-briefing classes
The classes can be helpful and you will need to go for accountability reasons, but it’s entirely on you how much you care.
Put in enough effort and maybe take a few extra classes, just to be safe. Your leadership won’t want to stop you from trying to improve your odds in the civilian world.
When Maj. Gen. William Westmoreland took command of the 101st Airborne in 1958, he noticed a severe lack of proficiency in small-unit tactics and patrolling.
So he immediately created a school to fix the problem.
When he took command of all American forces in the Vietnam War, he once again created a school to teach long-range patrolling and small unit tactics with a Ranger-qualified cadre of instructors from the 5th Special Forces Group. To graduate from this school, you had to bet your life on it.
Dubbed “Recondo” school, Westmoreland claimed it was an amalgamation of Reconnaissance, Commando, and Doughboy. Recondo training emphasized both reconnaissance and standard infantry skills at the small unit level.
In 1960, Army Magazine described the Recondo tactics as “dedicated to the domination of certain areas of the battlefield by small aggressive roving patrols of opportunity which have not been assigned a definite reconnaissance or combat mission.” From these graduates, the 101st developed the Recondo Patrol.
This patrol type was meant to allow a Recondo to create as much havoc as possible in their area of operations. The patrol could be used against a disorganized enemy, as a screen for retrograde operations, to develop a situation or conduct a feint ahead of an advancing force, or to eliminate guerrilla activity.
It was the last ability that Recondos would put to great use in Vietnam.
The Recondo school was set up at Nha Trang and was inspired but the highly successful Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol training conducted by detachment B-52 from 5th Special Forces. This program, known as Project Delta, was originally intended to train Special Forces and their Vietnamese counterparts in guerrilla-like ambushes.
The course became so popular that within two years over half of the students were from regular Army units. Westmoreland expanded the school to teach Recondo tactics to as many LRRPs as possible.
In order to qualify for the MACV Recondo school, participants had to be in-country at least one month and have at least six months remaining on their tour upon completion. Students also had to have a combat arms MOS and an actual or pending assignment to an LRRP unit. Finally, they had to be in excellent physical shape and be proficient in general military knowledge.
The school was open to soldiers and marines of the Free World Military Assistance Forces, including the South Vietnamese, Koreans, Australians, and Filipinos. Many U.S. Marines also attended the training.
The curriculum of the school included improving students’ skills in the areas of map reading, intelligence gathering, weapons training, and communications. Weapons training included a variety of American weapons as well as weapons used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. Particular attention was also given to mines and booby-traps. Communications covered the use of several different radios, field expedient antennas, and proper message writing techniques.
The school also gave advanced training in medical treatment, including the use of Ringer’s lactate solution and intravenous and intramuscular injections. Schooling also focused on air operations – especially the use of the UH-1 Huey helicopter for insertions and extractions. Forward Air Controller techniques were taught with students calling in live ordnance on a target.
Most importantly, the school taught patrolling.
Students learned different patrolling techniques, preparation, and organization. Proper patrol security was taught along with intelligence-gathering techniques. The students trained heavily in immediate action drills to react to or initiate enemy contact.
After over 300 hours of training, averaging over 12 hours per day, it was time for the students to take the final exam: an actual combat patrol.
In the early days of the program, the area the prospective graduates patrolled was relatively secure and quiet. As the war progressed, however, contact with the enemy became a given. This led to students saying “you bet your life” to graduate from Recondo School.
At least two students died in Recondo training with many others wounded. An unknown number of Viet Cong were also killed in the skirmishes during the “you bet your life” patrol. This led to the school itself receiving a nickname of its own: “the deadliest school on earth”.
In just over four years of operation, over 5,600 students attended Recondo school. Just 3,515 men graduated, not quite two-thirds of all who tried. Each student who graduated was awarded a Recondo patch, worn on the right breast pocket, and an individual Recondo number that was recorded in their 201 personnel file. The Honor Graduate from each class was also given a specially engraved Recondo knife.
Despite the school and its graduates’ success, Westmoreland’s successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, officially closed the school on December 19, 1970. The Recondo name and training lived on, as some divisions continued to host their own Recondo schools until they were eventually closed too.
In early September 2018, the Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II entered the Central Command area of operations for the first time.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with the attached Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 is the first continental U.S.-based Navy and Marine Corps force to deploy with the Lightning II. The Essex ARG/MEU team is currently conducting a regularly scheduled deployment.
While in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, the amphibious force is trained and equipped to conduct maritime security operations, crisis response operations, theater security cooperation and forward naval presence operations to reinforce to the U.S.’s commitment to partner nations in the region.
“As a forward-deployed force we are appropriately postured to ensure freedom of navigation and commerce in the world’s most important sea lanes,” said Gerald Olin, commander, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 1. “The embarked Marines of 13th MEU allow us the flexibility to rapidly respond to crises and set conditions that promote security in the region.”
Following a six-month comprehensive, pre-deployment training period, the Essex ARG/MEU was certified for deployment. The training consisted of three integrated at-sea periods which collectively ensured the Navy/Marine Corps team is at its highest level of readiness to accomplish missions across the range of military operations. VMFA-211 was certified for deployment across all mission essential tasks to include deep air support, close air support, offensive air support, and electronic warfare.
USS Essex (LHD 2) transits the Pacific Ocean.
(Photo by Communication Specialist 3rd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.)
“When combined with inherent capabilities of the 13th MEU and Essex ARG, the F-35B strengthens the amphibious force through new and increased multi-mission capabilities, making our team a more lethal and survivable crisis response force,” said Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer, 13th MEU.
The Essex ARG is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47). During deployment they will operate with embarked forces of the 13th MEU, PHIBRON 1, the “Blackjacks” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, and detachments from Assault Craft Unit 5, Naval Beach Group 1, Beachmaster Unit 1, Fleet Surgical Team 3 and Tactical Air Control Squadron 11.
The 13th MEU consists of the command element; the aviation combat element comprised of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 Reinforced and VMFA 211; the ground combat element comprised of Battalion Landing Team 3/1; and the Logistics Combat Element comprised of Combat Logistics Battalion 13.
For me, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The earliest served in the Spanish American War, and all the way to World War II. It’s important that their service be honored and remembered — especially on Memorial Day.
In early May 2011, I was looking for some way to give back to my country. I worked as a flower grower in Ecuador and I had an idea. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, people would go to cemeteries and decorate gravesites with flowers.
I met with two other Ecuador-based American flower growers, and together we were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. I called up the administration at Arlington National Cemetery and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.'” And they happily accepted the offer.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
And that was how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start. Scouts and other volunteers place a flower in front of each headstone. Volunteers quietly read every headstone and note the dates and circumstances. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. It’s a very personal tribute.
What began at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2011 with 10,000 roses, has expanded to dozens of cemeteries around the country. Last year, the foundation distributed 400,000 flowers at 41 cemeteries and other Memorial Day observances around the country.
That expansion would not have been possible without volunteers and broad-based partnerships and support. These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in California, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia.
Since 2013, we have worked with local groups to organize floral tributes for Memorial Day at National Cemeteries and Veterans Cemeteries across the U.S.
Our growth would not have been possible without the guidance and involvement of the National Cemetery Administration. Cemetery directors find our efforts provide a way for the general public to connect with their mission to honor our late veterans and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices they make.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation volunteers prepare roses at the Houston National Cemetery.
We also distribute bouquets of flowers to gold star families attending the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend, organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
In 2019, more than 100 cemeteries are participating in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s efforts around the country.
The numbers amaze me every time I look at them. Now we talk about tens of thousands of flowers. We still have a long way to go, before every veteran’s gravesite is recognized on Memorial Day, but we are well on our way to reaching that goal.
I also know the difference just one flower can make. One year, as we gave out flowers on Memorial Day, I handed a rose to an older woman. She thanked me and said, “His father brought me roses the day he was born.” Then she invited me to walk with her to visit her son’s gravesite. And as we stood there together in the hot sun and she told me her son’s story, I knew one flower could mean everything to one person
Placing a flower for Memorial Day to honor a fallen service member or veteran is a quiet tribute; a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families. It brings together people from all walks of life to honor those who have served our country and it helps all of us learn more about our history.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Afghanistan has long been one of the world’s biggest producers of opium, which is used to make heroin, and the Taliban has made a lucrative business from taxing and providing security to producers and smugglers in the region.
But the militant group has expanded its role in that drug trade considerably, boosting its profits at a time when it is making decisive gains against the Afghan government and its US backers.
According to a New York Times report, the Taliban has gotten involved in every stage of the drug business. Afghan police and their US advisers find heroin-refining labs with increasingly frequency, but the labs are easy to replace.
The country has produced the majority of the world’s opium for some time, despite billions of dollars spent by the US to fight it during the 16-year-long war there. Afghan and Western officials now say that rather than getting smuggled out of Afghanistan in the form of opium syrup, at least half of the crop is getting processed domestically, before leaving the country as morphine or heroin.
Those forms are easier to smuggle, and they are much more valuable for the Taliban, which reportedly draws at least 60% of its income from the drug trade. With its increasing focus on trafficking drugs, the Taliban has taken on more of the functions a drug cartel.
“They receive more revenues if they process it before it has left the country,” William Brownfield, former US Assistant Secretary for Drugs and Law Enforcement, told reporters in the Afghan capital Kabul earlier this year. “Obviously we are dealing with very loose figures, but drug trafficking amounts to billions of dollars every year from which the Taliban is taking a substantial percentage.”
An Afghan farmer can be paid about $163 for a kilo of raw opium, which is like a black sap. Once it is refined into heroin, it can be sold for $2,300 to $3,500 a kilo at regional markets. In Europe it has a wholesale value of about $45,000.
Opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been consistently high since the US invasion in 2001. In 2016, there was a 10% jump in the area under cultivation, making it one of the three highest years on record. Initial data indicated 2017 was another record year, according to The Times, with government eradication efforts continue to be stymied throughout the country.
Seizures of chemical precursors, which are needed to process opium, have spiked, and the amount of processed morphine and heroin seized has risen considerably, now outstripping that of opium.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that without drugs, the war in Afghanistan “would have been long over,” and a senior Afghan official told The Times that, “If an illiterate local Taliban commander in Helmand makes a million dollars a month now, what does he gain in time of peace?”
The Trump administration has said its new strategy in Afghanistan is aimed at convincing the group there is no way to win on the battlefield, but its growing role in the drug trade is likely to make some elements of the Taliban less disposed to negotiations with the Kabul.
“This trend has real consequences for peace and security in Afghanistan, as it encourages those within the Taliban movement who have the greatest economic incentives to oppose any meaningful process of reconciliation with the new government,” the UN has said.
The Taliban’s move into heroin processing comes as it gains ground against the government, particularly in areas where the drug is produced.
A unit of several hundred Afghan commandos, working with US special-forces advisers, is tasked with interdicting the flow of drugs. But their work is often undermined by Afghan officials (including ones from their own unit) complicit in the drug trade or hindered by insecurity that persists in much of the country.
“In Helmand, we were targeting to do more than 2,000 to 3,000 hectares of eradication,” Javid Qaem, Afghanistan’s deputy minister of narcotics, told The Times. “We couldn’t do anything there, none at all, because Helmand was almost an active battlefield, the entire province.”
Helmand, home to an estimated 80% of Afghanistan’s opium poppies, is a “big drug factory,” a Western official told AFP earlier this year. “Helmand is all about drugs, poppy and Taliban,” he said.
While the US Drug Enforcement Administration has said that a minuscule portion of the heroin seized in the US is from Southwest Asia, heroin sourced to Afghanistan makes up a significant amount of what is found on the street in Europe.
The State Department has said 90% of the heroin found in Canada and 85% of that found in the UK can be tracked back to Afghanistan.
According to the 2017 European Drug Report, “most heroin found in Europe is thought to be manufactured [in Afghanistan] or in neighbouring Iran or Pakistan.” (Drug addiction has exploded in Iran, with opium making up two-thirds of consumption.)
Heroin is Europe’s most common opioid, with an estimated retail value between 6 billion and 7.8 billion euros, according to the report, produced by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Chesty XIV is all grown up and headed into the retired life— and you might now see the adored English bulldog skateboarding around the nation’s capital.
After five years of service, the Marine Corps’ mascot transferred his responsibilities to a younger model on Aug. 24, 2018, during a ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington. Col. Donald Tomich, the barracks’ commanding officer, presided over the sergeant’s retirement ceremony.
The bulldog’s owner told NBC she planned to purchase a skateboard for the retired mascot, who finally gets to relax those strict Marine Corps standards in retired life.
“All the things I would not let him learn how to do because he might embarrass the Marine Corps, he’s going to learn how to do them,” Christine Billera told NBC News.
Chesty XIV grew into his responsibilities during his time at 8th and I. That included lots of nights on the parade deck in miniature dress blues or attending other events in the Washington, D.C. area in his service or utility uniforms.
Cpl. Chesty XIV stands over Chesty XV wearing a Campaign Cover at Marine Barracks Washington, March 19, 2018.
(Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Taryn Escott)
“When he was young, he was feisty and energetic just like most Marines are when they come out of recruit training,” Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Calderon, the drill master at 8th and I, told NBC Washington. “As he progressed and got a little bit older, he brought that wisdom, knowledge and experience.”
The service’s canine mascots are named for revered Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, who earned five Navy Crosses while serving nearly four decades in the Corps.
Pvt. Chesty XV, who arrived at the Barracks as a 10-week-old puppy in March 2018, has completed his entry-level training, where he was even issued his own physical-training safety belt. The private will immediately begin representing the Marine Corps at ceremonial events in the nation’s capital.
Not everyone was ready to see the service’s 14th canine mascot go. Sgt. Chesty XIV will always be remembered at 8th and I, Calderon told NBC Washington.
Others thought the English bulldog might’ve been skirting his weight standards and dodging PT during his last days on active duty.
“Time to retire when you can’t button that uniform,” one Facebook user joked.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics have gone down significantly from recent years and are now shorter on average than those in private-sector health care, at least in big cities, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Critics of the study pointed out that main contributors to the JAMA report were current and former VA executives, including Dr. David Shulkin, who was fired as VA secretary in 2018 by President Donald Trump.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the JAMA report published Jan. 18, 2019, showed that the VA “has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care” since 2014, when wait-times scandals and doctored records led to the resignation of former VA Secretary and retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki.
“This study affirms that VA has made notable progress in improving access in primary care, and other key specialty care areas,” Wilkie said.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The cross-sectional JAMA study of wait-time data from VA facilities and private-sector hospitals focused on primary care, dermatology, cardiology and orthopedics in 15 major metropolitan areas.
The findings were that “there was no statistically significant difference between private sector and VA mean wait times in 2014” and, in 2017, “mean wait times were statistically significantly shorter for the VA,” the JAMA report said.
“In 2014 the average wait time in VA hospitals was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 in the private sector,” the study said, but in 2017, “mean wait time at VA hospitals had gone down to 17.7 days, while rising to 29.8 for private practitioners.”
The study, titled “Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers,” relied on wait-time data provided by the VA and calculated private-sector data from a survey conducted by a physicians’ search firm, Merritt Hawkins, using the so-called “secret shopper” method in nearly 2,000 medical offices in metropolitan areas.
“For the secret shoppers method, the research associates at MH [Merritt Hawkins] called physicians’ offices asking to be told the first available time for a new-patient appointment,” the JAMA study said.
“This earliest availability was recorded as the wait time. However, the VA data record scheduled wait times, which may not reflect the earliest available appointment,” the study said.
The JAMA report also noted that rural areas and follow-on care were excluded from the analysis and said that “follow-up studies are critical to analyze access to the entirety of VA health care,” since nearly one-quarter of veterans live in rural areas.
The overall conclusion of the report was that “access to care within VA facilities appears to have improved between 2014 and 2017 and appears to have surpassed access in the private sector for 3 of the 4 specialties evaluated,” with the exception of orthopedics.
In 2014, the VA was rocked by wait-time scandals and allegations of manipulated data at the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona. “This incident damaged the VA’s credibility and created a public perception regarding the VA health care system’s inability to see patients in a timely manner,” the JAMA report said.
The VA has since worked to improve access and reduce wait times.
“There is evidence suggesting that these efforts have improved access to care, including reports that 22% of VA patients are now seen on the same day as the requested appointment,” the report said. However, “Despite, these efforts, the adequacy of access to VA care remains unclear.”
As a result of the 2014 scandals, the VA initiated the Choice program to expand private-care options for veterans. Last year, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the VA Mission Act to consolidate and streamline the Choice program, which has been riddled with inefficiencies.
In June 2018, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that many veterans who opted for the Choice program to avoid wait times still faced delays that could stretch for months before seeing a doctor.
In response to the JAMA report, a posting on the Disabled American Veterans website came under the heading: “Veterans Affairs Spins ‘JAMA Study’ It Authored On VA Wait Times.”
In addition to Shulkin, the posting noted that another contributor to the JAMA study was Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the former acting head of the Veterans Health Administration. She was replaced in July by Dr. Richard Stone as acting head of the VHA and has now taken the position at the VA of deputy under secretary for discovery, education and affiliate networks.
Stone, the former deputy surgeon general of the Army, has yet to receive Senate confirmation. The VHA has not had a permanent head since Shulkin left the position in January 2017 to become VA secretary.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Ever since the first UH-60 took off in 1974, America’s Black Hawk helicopter has done a lot for the United States military. But let’s face it, even with the upgrades it has received over the years, it’s still been 43 years, and technology hasn’t been standing still.
Sikorsky, though, has been teaming up with Boeing to develop a replacement, the SB1 Defiant. In some ways, this helicopter looks familiar. That’s because it is a scaled-up version of the S-97 Raider, a technology demonstrator that’s been flying for a couple of years.
The S-97 has a top speed of at least 253 miles per hour and can carry six troops. It also has a number of options to haul a fair bit of firepower, including AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 2.75-inch rockets, 7.62mm machine guns, and .50-caliber machine guns. The S-97 uses X2 technology – in essence, a pair of contra-rotating rotors (much like the Kamov helicopters) with a push propeller. This allows it to hover 10,000 feet above the ground when the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Defiant adds the X2 technology to an airframe roughly the size of the UH-60. The Defiant would be able to haul at least a dozen troops in its cabin, as well as a crew of four. It also features retractable landing gear (to reduce drag), fly-by-wire controls, a composite fuselage, and advanced rotor system.
The concept of a push propeller has been tested before by the United States military. The AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter also used a push propeller to achieve high speed — up to 245 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.
The Army is reportedly going to ask for proposals from industry for a medium-lift aircraft in 2019. The SB1 Defiant will likely form the basis for one of the responses.
The alleged mastermind of Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris gave an interview to ISIS’ English-language magazine earlier this year in which he bragged about how he had evaded authorities after his photo was circulated in connection to a plot in Belgium.
Authorities on Monday identified the ringleader of the attacks that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more as “Belgium’s most notorious jihadi,” Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
Abaaoud has reportedly escaped to Syria and is believed to be behind several planned attacks in Europe, according to Reuters.
In his interview with Dabiq magazine, a slick ISIS propaganda publication, Abaaoud talked about how he went to Belgium to mount attacks against Westerners.
“We spent months trying to find a way into Europe, and by Allah’s strength, we succeeded in finally making our way to Belgium,” he said. “We were then able to obtain weapons and set up a safe house while we planned to carry out operations against the crusaders.”
Their plot was thwarted — the police raided a Belgian terrorist cell in January and killed two of Abaaoud’s suspected accomplices, according to The Associated Press. The group had reportedly planned to kill police officers in Belgium.
Abaaoud said the police released his photo after the raid, and he was nearly recognized by an officer who had reportedly stopped him.
“I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!” Abaaoud said. “This was nothing but a gift from Allah.”
He then boasted about how he had been known to Western intelligence agents, who he said arrested people all over Europe in an effort to get to him.
“The intelligence knew me from before as I had been previously imprisoned by them,” he said.
“So they gathered intelligence agents from all over the world — from Europe and America — in order to detain me,” he added. “They arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France, and Belgium in order to apprehend me. Subhānallāh, all those arrested were not even connected to our plans!”
This appears to have some basis in truth. The BBC reported in January that authorities seeking Abaaoud had detained people in Greece.
Abaaoud also taunted intelligence agencies who failed to capture him.
He said he escaped to Syria “despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies.”
“All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence,” he added. “My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”