In 2001, communities near Hill Air Force Base in Utah showed a high risk of developing brain cancer, while Fallon Naval Air Station was investigated for acute childhood leukemia incidents, and Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, was revealed to have contributed to water and air pollution when clusters of cancer and leukemia popped up.
At the time, however, officials kept to a firm statement: Correlation does not equate causation.
In other words, it was clear that military bases were contaminating the water, air, and environment. It was clear that there were higher-than-expected cases of severe illness. It was not clear that one caused the other.
Air Force bases, in particular, show high cases of contamination for a few reasons: jet fuel is extremely toxic by itself, but it is also highly flammable, requiring toxic flame retardants. These leak into the ground and contaminate water supplies; jet fuel is also known to pollute the air, especially in areas like airports or flight lines, where there are high volumes of active engines.
So, while it has been clear since the first World War that the United States and its military has a global impact, and therefore an imperative to maintain military superiority so we may continue to defend not only our way of life, but the livelihoods of our friends and allies, the question remains: at what cost?
U.S. military officials and policymakers are devoting increased attention to the potential for conflict with a near-peer competitor, and they’ve pursued a number of operational and equipment changes to prepare for it.
Among the latest moves is the rollout of more cold-weather gear among the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, underscoring the military’s growing concern about its ability to operate in extreme environments outside the Middle East.
For the last several years, the Army has been looking to update its gear for extremes, mainly jungles and the harsh cold. Included in that search was a new cold-weather boot and a cold-weather clothing system that could be adjusted for various temperatures.
In recent weeks, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York have done winter training operations with new gloves, headgear, socks, gaiters, parkas, and trousers. That new gear was focused on “face, hands, and feet,” 1st Sgt. Daniel Bryan, first sergeant of the division’s Light Fighters School, told Army Times.
The unit also received new skis. Built shorter and wider, like cross-country skis, they were brought in so inexperienced soldiers could strap into them with their cold-weather boots and be able to maneuver in short order. Those new skis were also being deployed among Army units in Alaska, Vermont, and Italy.
Troops at Fort Drum have done cold-weather exercises for some time, but the base’s recent designation as a Zone 7 — the same designation as Fort Wainwright in Alaska and Camp Ethan Allen in Vermont — steered millions of dollars more in funding there so soldiers could undertake more training.
The new equipment has been fielded as part of an effort to prepare troops physically and mentally for cold-weather operations.
“We don’t want [the cold] to hibernate us,” Bryan said. “We want to be physically and mentally prepared.”
‘You’re going to get your skis … so get ready’
The Marine Corps has also been reorienting itself for operations in the extreme cold.
In mid-January, the Corps issued two requests for information for a cap and gloves for intense cold. The Marines want both to be able to withstand temperatures down to 50 below zero and be fast-drying and water repellant, with the gloves able to work with touchscreen devices.
The Corps also plans to spend $12.75 million — $7 million in fiscal year 2018 — to buy 2,648 sets of the NATO ski system for scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and some infantrymen, with the first sets arriving at the end of the 2018 calendar year.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in December that the Marine Corps Rotational Force Europe, based in Norway, would be the first to get the gear.
“No Marine is going to leave here unless they know how to ski,” Neller said at the time, according to Military.com. “You’re going to get your skis here in about a week, so get ready.”
U.S. Marines have been in Norway on rotational deployments since early 2017, though they’ve stored equipment there for some time.
The deployments, the first of their kind, have focused on tactical training for offensive operations in cold weather (and irked Russia).
The primary reason for creating the rotational force was improving cold-weather training, one of Neller’s main goals.
Some exercises, done with NATO allies and non-NATO partners, have taken place just 200 miles from Norway’s border with Russia. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has also been conducting cold-weather training in neighboring Sweden.
The adjustment to the region hasn’t been totally smooth.
Marines in Norway’s Arctic region in 2016 and early 2017 reported a number of problems with their gear, which was pulled from the service’s inventory of cold-weather equipment. Zippers stuck; seams ripped; backpack frames snapped, and boots repeatedly pulled loose from skis or tore on the metal bindings, according to Military.com.
The equipment problems spurred a wave of feedback from Marines, leading the Corps to start looking at upgrades and replacements — including some cold-weather gear used by the Army as well as reinforced backpack frames suitable for frigid temperatures.
The Marine Corps’ overall plans for new gear goes beyond just outfitting a small rotational force, however, and those moves fit in with preparations for a future fight that Neller has said could be on the horizon.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller said during a December address to Marines in Norway. Neller said he saw a “big-ass fight” in the future and told them to be ready for a variety of missions.
Neller also said he expected the force’s attention to shift to new areas. “I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East,” Neller said, according to Military.com. “The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia.”
Increasing tensions with Russia and North Korea have increased the potential the U.S. military could face cold-weather fighting again — particularly in Northwest Asia.
During the Korean War, brutal cold plagued U.S. troops who lacked enough cold-weather gear and faced problems like frozen rations and gear damaged by subzero temperatures. Decades later, soldiers who recovered from frostbite and other injuries found themselves suffering from new symptoms related to their exposure.
All jobs in the military carry real risks, but some jobs are much riskier than others. Here are 10 of the most dangerous:
Pararescue jumpers are basically the world’s best ambulance service. They fly, climb, and march to battlefields, catastrophic weather areas and disaster zones to save wounded and isolated people during firefights or other emergencies.
2. Special operations
While this is lumping a few separate jobs together, troops such as Navy SEALs, Army green berets, Air Force combat controllers and others conduct particularly risky missions. They train allied forces, hunt enemy leaders, and go on direct action missions against the worst of America’s adversaries. They get additional training and better equipment than other units, but the challenging nature of their mission results in a lot of casualties.
3. Explosive ordnance disposal
The bomb squad for the military, explosive ordnance disposal technicians used to spend the bulk of their time clearing minefields or dealing with dud munitions that didn’t go off. Those missions were dangerous enough, but the rise of improvised explosive devices changed all that and increased the risk for these service members.
Not exactly shocking that infantry is one of the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield. These troops search out and destroy the enemy and respond to calls for help when other units stumble into danger. They are the primary force called on to take and hold territory from enemy forces.
The cavalry conducts reconnaissance and security missions and, if there is a shortage of infantry soldiers, is often called to take and hold territory against enemy formations. Their recon mission sometimes results in them fighting while vastly outnumbered.
6. Combat Engineers
Combat engineers do dangerous construction work with the added hazard of combat operations going on all around them. When the infantry is bogged down in enemy obstacles, it’s highly-trained engineers known as Sappers who go forward and clear the way. The engineers also conduct a lot of the route clearance missions to find and destroy enemy IEDs and mines.
Artillery soldiers send massive rounds against enemy forces. Because artillery destroys enemy formations and demoralizes the survivors, it’s a target for enemy airstrikes and artillery barrages. Also, the artillery may be called on to assume infantry and cavalry missions that they’ve received little training on.
Medics go forward with friendly forces to render aid under fire. While medics are protected under the Geneva Convention, this only helps when the enemy honors the conventions. Even then, artillery barrages and bombing runs can’t tell which troops are noncombatants.
9. Vehicle transportation
Truck driving is another job that became markedly more dangerous in the most recent wars. While driving vehicles in large supply convoys or moving forward with advancing troops was always risky, the rise of the IED threat multiplied the danger for these soldiers. This was complicated by how long it took the military to get up-armored vehicles to all units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Aircraft provide a lot of capabilites on the battlefield, but that makes them, their crews, and their pilots targets of enemy fire.
11. Artillery observers
Like medics, these soldiers go forward with maneuver forces. They find enemy positions and call down artillery strikes to destroy them. The enemy knows to take them out as quickly as possible since they are usually carrying radios.
The admiral commanding America’s Pacific naval fleet says he will retire.
Admiral Scott Swift made the shocking announcement in a statement released late Sept. 25.
In the statement, Swift revealed he had been informed that he would not rise to become Commander of United States Pacific Command, a usual advancement for Navy admirals who commanded the Pacific Fleet.
“I have been informed by the Chief of Naval Operations that I will not be his nominee to replace Adm. [Harry] Harris as the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command,” he said. “In keeping with tradition and in loyalty to the Navy, I have submitted my request to retire.”
Admiral Swift’s career included service with Attack Squadrons 94 and 97, flying the LTV A-7 Corsair. He saw combat during Operation Preying Mantis, and commander Air Wing 14 and Carrier Strike Group 9. His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Medal with Combat V.
In recent months, the Pacific Fleet as rocked by the collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) that killed a total of 17 sailors and seriously damaged both vessels, which were forward-based as part of Destroyer Squadron 15.
A number of other officers have been relieved of duty in the wake of those collisions, including Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, and the commanders of Destroyer Squadron 15 and Task Force 70.
The challenges the United States sees from Russia and China are similar because both have studied the America way of war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Oct. 1, 2018.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford was visiting Spanish officials after attending the NATO Military Committee meeting in Warsaw, Poland.
The bottom line for the United States and the country’s greatest source of strength strategically “is the network of allies we’ve built up over 70 years,” Dunford told reporters traveling with him. At the operational level, he added, the U.S. military’s advantage is the ability to deploy forces anywhere they are needed in a timely manner and then sustain them.
“Russia has studied us since 1990,” Dunford said. “They looked at us in 2003. They know how we project power.”
Russian leaders are trying to undermine the credibility of the U.S. ability to meet its alliance commitments and are seeking to erode the cohesion of the NATO alliance, he said.
Russia has devoted serious money to modernizing its military, the chairman noted, and that covers the gamut from its nuclear force to command and control to cyber capabilities. “At the operational level, their goal is to field capabilities that challenge our ability to project power into Europe and operate freely across all domains,” Dunford said. “We have to operate freely in sea, air and land, as we did in the past, but now we also must operate [freely] in cyberspace and space.”
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, center, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attends the official welcome ceremony before the start of the NATO Military Committee conference in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 28, 2018.
(DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The nature of war has not changed, but the character of war has. The range of weapon systems has increased. There has been a proliferation of anti-ship cruise missiles and land-to-land attack missiles. Cyber capabilities, command and control capabilities, and electronic warfare capabilities have grown.
Great power competition
These are the earmarks of the new great power competition. Russia is the poster child, but China is using the same playbook, the chairman said.
“What Russia is trying to do is … exactly what China is trying to do vis-a-vis our allies and our ability to project power,” Dunford said. “In China, what we are talking about is an erosion of the rules-based order. The United States and its allies share the commitment to a free and open Pacific. That is going to require coherent, collective action.”
Against Russia, the United States and its NATO allies have a framework in place around which they can build: a formal alliance structure allows the 29 nations to act as one, Dunford said.
However, he added, a similar security architecture is not in place in the Pacific.
The United States has treaties with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. Politically and economically, the United States works with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“I see the need for all nations with an interest in the rules-based architecture to take collective action,” Dunford said. “The military dimension is a small part of this issue, and it should be largely addressed diplomatically and economically.”
He said the military dimension is exemplified by freedom of navigation operations, in which 22 nations participated with more than 1,500 operations in 2018. “These are normal activities designed to show we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and not allow illicit claims to become de facto,” the chairman said.
A series of new CubeSats now are in space, conducting a variety of scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, following launch of Rocket Lab’s first mission for NASA under a Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contract.
An Electron rocket lifted off at 1:33 a.m. EST (7:33 p.m. NZDT) from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, marking the first time CubeSats have launched for NASA on a rocket designed specifically for small payloads.
“With the VCLS effort, NASA has successfully advanced the commercial launch service choices for smaller payloads, providing viable dedicated small launch options as an alternative to the rideshare approach,” said Jim Norman, director of Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This first mission is opening the door for future launch options.”
(Rocket Lab USA photo)
At the time of the VCLS award in 2015, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions were limited to ridesharing — flying only when space was available on other missions. Managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, VCLS awards are designed to foster a commercial market where SmallSats and CubeSats could be placed in orbits to get the best science return.
This mission includes 10 Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 payloads, selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The initiative is designed to enhance technology development and student involvement. These payloads will provide information and demonstrations in the following areas:
DaVinci — High School to Grade School STEM education
Small research satellites, or CubeSats.
“Low cost launch services to enable expanded science from smaller satellites are now a reality. NASA’s Earth Venture program and indeed our entire integrated, Earth-observing mission portfolio will benefit greatly from the ability to launch small satellites into optimal orbits, when and where we want them,” said Dr. Michael Freilich, Director of Earth Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Our partnership with LSP on the VCLS effort is helping both NASA and the commercial launch sector.”
CubeSats are small satellites built in standard units of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, or in configurations of two, three or six units. These small satellites play a valuable role in the agency’s exploration, technology, educational, and science investigations, including planetary exploration, Earth observation, and fundamental Earth and space science. They are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge NASA technologies like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement.
NASA will continue to offer CubeSats an opportunity to hitch a ride on primary missions in order to provide opportunities to accomplish mission objectives, and expects to announce the next round of CubeSats for future launches in February 2019.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise, better known as RIMPAC, is the largest regular naval exercise in the world. Every even-numbered year, countries from around the globe take part in this massive operation. 15 nations took part in RIMPAC 2018 (China was disinvited), bringing together a total of 48 ships off the coast of Hawaii.
In 2018, the exercise was interrupted by a real search-and-rescue mission off the island of Hawaiian island of Niihau that involved Navy and Coast Guard units. In short, if it can happen in war, it can happen at RIMPAC!
Multi-national Special Operations Forces (SOF) participate in a submarine insertion exercise with the fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) and combat rubber raiding craft off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii during Rim of the Paciﬁc (RIMPAC) exercise.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Michelle Pelissero)
This year, two aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and JS Ise (DDH 182), took part, as did the amphibious assault ship USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD 6), HMAS Adelaide (L01), and 44 other vessels, ranging from the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T AH 19) to the Peruvian maritime patrol boat BAP Ferre.
Watch the video below to get a glimpse at all the ships that took part in RIMPAC 2018!
The ground war of Desert Storm lasted all of 100 hours. After giving Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army the Noah’s Ark treatment and raining death on them for 40 days and 40 nights, the Army and Marines very swiftly moved in and expelled the entire army all the way out of Kuwait and deep into their own territory.
But it wasn’t all Iraqi troops surrendering to helicopters en masse.
On Feb. 22, 1991, the First Marine Division already had 3,000 Marines and Corpsmen 12 miles inside of Kuwait. The grunts were on foot, carrying heavy packs along with their weapons for all of those 12 miles since the wee hours of the morning. They crossed a minefield and evaded Iraqi armor to do it, and they had already stormed Iraqi positions and taken prisoners. That’s when the Marines were informed that President Bush called a halt to the invasion to give Saddam time to leave Kuwait on his own.
Up until this point, some of the 92,000 Marines in the area of responsibility had already seen action, defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi border attacks, Iraqi artillery attacks, and even an Iraqi amphibious assault on the Saudi city of Khafji. In each of these encounters, Marines were left unimpressed with the performance of the Iraqis on the battlefield, so they changed their tactics to make the best use of their speed and armor while making up for their lack of supplies – but the new plan required new logistical plans in the middle of the Saudi desert, which Navy Seabees accomplished in a hurry. The stage was set.
By the 20th of February, the First Marine Division was staged along the minefields that protected the Kuwaiti border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Marine engineers discovered a path through the mines by watching Iraqi defectors walk through the minefield. The Marines simply mimicked that path and within hours were miles inside Kuwait. The Marines, some carrying up to 100 pounds, walked for 30 miles and then crawled through a minefield. In chemical warfare gear.
Marines along the line began to break through the minefields so their heavy armor could roll through. At least three separate locations drove two lines through the mines under enemy fire. They did the same thing through an inner minefield. Once the Marines were through, they carried on to where the enemy was and began taking out the entrenched defenders immediately. Resistance was uncoordinated and incomplete. The First and Second Divisions invading Kuwait might have met more resistance, but Marines were landing all over the area.
Meanwhile, a Marine landing of reserve troops was going down in Saudi Arabia. For days before landing, these amphibious Marines had conducted training exercises throughout the Persian Gulf, making the Iraqis believe a large amphibious invasion of Kuwait was coming. Instead of that, the Americans moved that Marine force back to Saudi Arabia and replaced its force. That force held up 10 Iraqi divisions and 80,000 Iraqi troops who were just waiting to pounce on the invading Americans. All the while, their cities in Western Kuwait would fall.
Marine artillery was at work as well, destroying 9 APCs, along with some 34 tanks. By the time President Bush declared a cease-fire, Marines had defeated 11 Iraqi divisions, destroyed 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and taken 22,000 prisoners.
Shortly after the Marine advance, everything was over. Kuwait was liberated, and Iraqis were back in Iraq.
While speaking to US Marines in San Diego on March 13, 2018, President Donald Trump suggested creating a branch of the military for space.
“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said at Miramar Air Station. “We may even have a Space Force.”
“You know, I was saying it the other day cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space,” Trump said. “I said ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the space force.’ And I was not really serious, and then I said ‘what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.'”
“That could happen, that could be the big breaking story,” Trump said. “Look at all those people back there,” Trump said, pointing to the media in the background. “Look at them… Ohhhh, that fake news.”
While Trump appears to have wandered into the issue in his speech, the idea is not new.
The Congressional Strategic Forces Subcommittee even proposed creating such a branch in July 2017, which they called Space Corps. But the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that passed in November 2017 actually banned it.
Taliban militants killed dozens of Afghan security forces in fresh attacks on several government targets, according to officials.
Safiullah Amiri, deputy chairman of the regional council in the northern Kunduz province, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that 15 Afghan military personnel were killed in an attack in the Dashti Archi district that began late on Sept. 9, 2018.
Amiri said that another 18 security personnel were injured in the attack.
A security source in Dashti Archi said Taliban militants attacked several security teams in the district.
Meanwhile, in the northern province of Jawzjan, provincial police chief Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani said at least eight police were killed in early-morning fighting with the Taliban in the Khamyab district on Sept. 10, 2018, the Associated Press reported.
Jawzjani told the AP that Afghan troops were forced to retreat from a headquarters in the district in order to prevent civilian casualties. He said seven Taliban militants were killed and eight others wounded.
“There was intense fighting and we didn’t want civilian houses destroyed, or any civilian casualties,” Jawzjani said.
In the northern city of Sar-e-Pul, the capital of the Afghan province of the same name, the Taliban carried out overnight attacks on military and police installations, officials and security sources said.
Provincial council member Asif Sadiqi was quoted by the dpa news agency as saying that at least 17 soldiers were killed in the attacks in Sar-e-Pul, which he said the militants launched from three directions.
Taliban militants reportedly seized control of several military bases and police checkpoints in Sar-e-Pul, and provincial council member Reza Alimzada said that several security personnel were taken hostage.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters killed another 14 local Afghan security-force members and government-loyal militiamen in the Dara Suf district of the northern Samangan Province, provincial spokesman Sediq Azizi said.
The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it’s a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin’s 1990-1994 enlistment in the world’s best Air Force.
This chapter, called “Guest on the Range,” is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief:
One of the things I learned while holding a loaded semiautomatic rifle was that I shouldn’t “goof around.” Apparently it’s distracting and unnerving to the other participants at the firing range. The angry sergeant on duty pointed this out, adding that it was irresponsible and unsafe. But everyone was so serious, so uptight, so concentrated.
Colton continued making the rest of us laugh, lightening the mood. We only managed to annihilate the dirt mounds behind the paper people. At the end of the session, when I learned that I had failed the firing range test and had one more chance to pass it or be discharged from service, I stopped goofing around.
In order to maintain a good standing with the U.S. Air Force, one must complete the annual firing range test. If you fail the retest, pack your bags because you’re heading home on an early discharge. Not wanting to go back to Long Island so soon, I concentrated and passed the retest, barely. For the following annual firing range test, I made arrangements to get help, mostly by ensuring that I was out of the country on assignment, whereupon the test was lost to bureaucracy and ultimately waived. But the year I got married and stopped going on so many TDYs was the year the test came back to haunt me.
I had taken a second job at this point, working in a liquor store not far from the Louisiana Downs racetrack, not because I was saving to buy a house and raise a family, but rather to help pay off all the loans. We had financially backed ourselves into a corner between the cars, furniture, and vacations we simply charged on credit cards. We had to have them because we were a responsible adult married couple. In my third year of military service, now that I was no longer on TDYs, I was unable to escape the firing range.
At the time I had enlisted in the Air Force, it is key to note that nobody, with the exception of the security police, the special ops guys, and maybe a few fighter pilots, had a useful knowledge of weapons, let alone were able to locate the safety. For the rest of us, the firing range seemed to only serve the purpose of reminding us what weapons looked like. I hit my targets by mistake, and self-defense skills were measured by how fast I could run a mile. Although the chow hall on the base displayed a sign upon entering that read “Those Carrying Automatic Weapons May Go to the Head of the Line,” I can guarantee that had my base ever been attacked, it would have been captured within minutes. A massive army of children riding atop Saint Bernards and wielding broomsticks could have charged the main gate and I’d have to think twice about holding my ground. Broomsticks hurt.
Now faced wit having to take the firing range test, I came to the conclusion I needed someone to help teach me how to pass it. Unfortunately, asking for help within the military community was not exactly the option I wanted to exercise. I was all too aware that I had joined the one branch of the military that didn’t require you to use handheld weapons. But asking for help was like a plumber you hired asking you to show him what a pipe fitting looked like.
We were supposed to at least pretend we knew what we were doing. There were a few guys in my squadron who grew up hunting the small animalsI always associated with my local park or the garbage cans on a trash night. But even one of them managed to book himself a trip to the emergency room. Firing a hand cannon with one hand and a large ego, he managed to adorn his forehead with a welt the size of a grapefruit, the recoil smacking him with the pistol hard enough to make him forget the date. Knowing that I was proficient in neither accuracy or emergency room small talk, I decided to search for a teacher who was not in the military.
I knew I could find someone, I had done it before.
My brother piqued my interest in firearms when he shot our father with a flare gun. To be fair, it was a misunderstanding. My father had explained to Peter that he was grounded for some infraction of the rules. Peter said no, then shot him. From the moment my father stepped into his room to confront him, he should have take notes of Peter’s nautical emergency rescue kit, now open on his desk. Normally tucked away on his lobster boat, the flare gun was now strangely instead in Peter’s hand. Moments later, the flare bounced off my dad’s chest and zipped around the carpet, finally coming to a halt near the hamster cage, melting a small hole in the synthetic rug the size of a potato.
The room immediately turned a blindingly bright white color only the Coast Guard could love, and by the time my father regained his vision and looked through the smoke, presumably to grab Peter’s neck and snap it, my brother had used the diversion to jump out the window, eluding punishment for yet another night. Peter was not the best communicator, nor was he ever considered a good candidate for “negotiator,” but I quickly learned by observing his actions that perhaps I didn’t need to learn to communicate with words. Being a shy teenager who was also lacking command of a large vocabulary, talking problems out and reasoning with each other just seemed time-consuming. That night, I came to understand the power of a gun and realized aloud, “Guns are awesome.”
I wanted to test it out for myself. So I found an instructor who chose as my first target the happy, winged creature symbolizing love that perched outside my bedroom window each morning. It was just sitting there on the branch, singing, ruffling its feathers like most swallows do. I was seventeen. My instructor was twelve. The BB gun was pumped with enough pressure to launch a kitten into space. Then I aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the bird reeling over backward in a cloud of feathers and guilt. When it was all over, Jason explained it was normal to feel nauseated:
“It’s okay. You’ll be fine. But I gotta go. My mom’s taking me to see The Little Mermaid.“
That would be the last time I let a twelve-year-old whisper “kill it now” in my ear. While I learned that it was an amazing feeling to hold an object that has the ability to sway opinions, after the incident with the swallow, I decided guns weren’t really for me. Though committing arson on my father’s vegetable garden was acceptable, a gun was just taking things too far.
Now face with the firing range test, my search for a weapons instructor finally came to an end the day I met Barry, the assistant manager fo the liquor store where I worked nights. The day I walked in and inquired about a job, he was sitting behind the manager’s desk. I explained that I was looking for employment. He regarded me for a moment, then asked if I’d mind working with a fat pig name Clarence, pointing to the skinny guy behind the register. I said I thought this would be fine. He then led me on a tour through the massive walk-in refrigerator to show me where all the different beers were stacked. He asked me if I had any back problems preventing me from lifting boxes. I said no, then noticed his back brace and realized this was the best possible answer I could have given. Barry nodded his head up and down, seemingly trying to decide if I was going to work out, then wrenched open a bottle of Boone’s wine and washed down a handful of unknown pills. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Then he pulled a .22-caliber, long-barreled pistol out of his pants. It was fitted with some sort of custom-made silencer and he asked me if I’d ever seen such a thing of beauty. I said I hadn’t. Then he aimed it at a can of Milwaukee’s Best and fired, leaving a fountain of amusement in his wake.
I accepted the job on the spot.
It wasn’t until a week into the job that I learned that Barry hadn’t been the assistant manager at all. He was just an unstable employee whom the actual manager was afraid to fire. He called himself the assistant manager, and nobody argued with him. Although, looking back, it should have occurred to me, since Barry had given me a bonus one day for a job well done with a case of Miller Lite. But this guy could handle a weapon, even while hallucinating and mumbling, so who was I to question it?
Initially, I was a little nervous about taking a second job because the supervisors in my squadron tended to frown upon moonlighting, even though many of the enlisted guys I knew did it anyway. I had reached out to may coworker Tony Coloccini, who had confided in me that he also had a second job at a liquor store chain and would put in a good word. A week later, I was standing in this rundown liquor store. Needing money, and not wanting to be seen, this was the perfect job. Barry, the firearms expert, was the gift I was looking for.
Barry would walk up and down the aisles with an aimless purpose to do nothing but strut. Occasionally, he’d say he was going to take inventory or stock the shelves. But there was always some condition that prevented him from doing any actual work. He could never bend over to reach the bottom two shelves because of a bad back, nor could he stand on small ladder, claiming he once fell off one and preferred to avoid them. He couldn’t ever read inventory lists or do the ordering because he always forgot his glasses and, I suspect, couldn’t write.
This always left me wondering what Barry’s function in the store actually was until one night some suspicious-looking guys walked in and were greeted by Barry stroking a .44 magnum long barrel. This is a gun more commonly used to take down a helicopter or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I imagine. They immediately turned and walked out. In short, the story had never been robbed since Barry started working there two years prior. And in a neighborhood where crime seemed to be the gross domestic product, Barry’s value went a long way.
As a result, the place became kind of a safe hangout for Barry’s friends who all lost their money at the track and would come in and shoot the shit with him for a while. This eventually led to the question of could have a bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20 and pay him back tomorrow. Barry always said yes, and, of course, would always forget that he did. In fact, unsurprisingly, Barry forgot a lot of things. He forgot to shower and shave. He forgot that you couldn’t scratch off twenty-five instant-win lotto tickets and not pay for them. And once he even forgot his gun was loaded and shot out his own windshield, or so Clarence, who had witnessed the incident, told me.
The store closed each night at midnight and by the end of the first month, Barry, Clarence, and I found ourselves on the same schedule. We got to know each other pretty well and enjoyed each other’s company and displayed our newfound friendship by developing a routine after locking up every night that involved petty theft, drinking, and soon enough, firearms practice.
Anyone else, I think, would have been alarmed by the double holster he wore to work every day, accompanied by a different set of pistols. Or, perhaps, the cocktail of pharmaceuticals, vodka, belligerence, and the dash of hallucinations that housed this human being. But one night, as we were leaving, he quick-drawed his pistols and unleashed a few rounds on the speed sign on the side of the road, hitting it perfectly without aiming and I knew I found my instructor.
The first problem with asking Barry about being my sharpshooting mentor was just trying to catch him in a moment when he was actually visiting Earth. I timed my approach carefully, since Barry was known to spend the first part of each night shift with his head down on the manager’s desk, occasionally snapping awake with a look of fear behind his milky eyes. Some nights, because the desk was located behind a small wall, his abrupt and frightening rise from the ninth circle of hell would cause a customer to drop a bottle of alcohol.
“Barry, I was wondering if you could teach me to shoot a gun and possibly–”
“Absolutely. Grab a case of beer and meet me at the trunk of my car.”
I can only assume that in the event that the local police force, the National Guard, and the entire US Army found themselves overmatched, Barry was their red phone emergency call. to find that Barry possessed a lot of weapons was not a surprise. To find that each of his weapons came with its own quick-release latch, strapped into the truck of his car, was. Barry, who stood at about five feet, two inches, drove a 1973 four-door Lincoln Continental. I t had a trunk big enough to carry a pond stocked with trout.
What should have worried me most was that somewhere over the course of his life, he came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to haul around enough ammunition to take out Shreveport, just in case he had to. Also worrisome was the stun gun he had as a “back up” in case all else failed. But honestly, what concerned me most was not passing the firing range test.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at a weapon only Arnold Schwarzenegger could handle.
“Needed something for a crowd. Made it myself. Fully automatic.”
We stared by setting up in front of what appeared to be a fenced-off electrical power station. It was located a short distance behind the liquor store and far away from the road. I inquired it if seemed troubling that, essentially, we were shooting at a potential eleven o’clock news story, but Barry explained that it was metal and would not explode, so no need to worry.
“No one’s gonna lose power,” he added.
“I meant the ricocheting bullets.”
“What about them?”
“Won’t they ricochet into us?”
“Unlikely. Now, do you want my help or not?”
Before we began, I tried to explain that there were no moving targets on the firing range, to which Barry explained that I was a woman. I said it wasn’t necessary, but that maybe we should start with something easy like a Coke can. But Barry insisted these were the basics and handed me a contraption that resembled a howitzer. Then he switched it to automatic and yelled, “Pull!”
Clarence lobbed a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry wine cooler into the sky. The weapon was so heavy that aiming it wasn’t really an option. I just sort of heaved it up, like throwing a heavy rock, and squeezed the trigger as best I could. The recoil forced me to the ground like a cannon blast. All the while, as I kept my finger on the trigger, I could have sworn I heard the faint but distinct sound of my mother crying.
It’s safe to assume that the Air Force was the right branch for me. Placing a wrench or a screwdriver in my hands at least ensures that any pain inflicted will be minimal and blunt and kept within the radius of me. Putting a loaded weapon in my hand is like strapping sharp knives to a small boy and sending him off to play tackle football with the other kids.
As expected, I missed everything, except for the power grid, a line of cypress trees, a storage shed, and the planet below our feet, which really took a kick in the balls that night. Also in the line of fire was human safety.
“F*ck this,” Clarence said, “I’m out of here.”
“Calm down,” Barry yelled. “Just stand behind him.”
“But that’s where the shed was!”
This is how it happens, I thought. This is how morons die. You always read in the paper, or hear on the news, about a couple of friends from a basement in Colorado Springs, just hanging out with a bottle of Jameson when one best friend shoots the other. There’s never any great detail about the incident. One buddy “accidentally” shoots the other. But the news anchor always includes that one fatal clue: “He thought the safety was on,” “He didn’t know it was loaded,” “He didn’t think that doing shots from the barrel was that big of a deal.” As a viewer, you sit eating your bowl of cornflakes at one o’clock in the morning, thinking to yourself, f*cking morons, and then turn the channel back to TMZ to find out what the latest Disney starlet thinks of terrorists.
But there we were, throwing a few back, shooting wildly at fast-moving wine coolers with automatic weapons and talking about how awesome it would be if Lynyrd Skynyrd could come back from the dead and play one more time. We deserved nothing more than a really stupendous obituary in which the editor would mercifully, thinking about our families, substitute the word “manslaughter” for “accidental.” The caption under the picture in the newspaper would read: “One man arrested after shooting his two best friends.” Then I realized the scariest part was that Barry and Clarence would be forever connected to me as “best friends.”
“You know what. I’ve got to get going,” I announced suddenly.
“What? But you haven’t even tried the sniper rifle yet.”
As I drove away from the scene of tomorrow’s headline, I watched Clarence crack open a bottle of something, then rummage through Barry’s trunk, reappear with the stun gun and chase him around the car, laughing.
The following week, I took the firing range test. I was really sweating hard, as this retest was a make-or-break moment – a few misplaced shot was all the difference between being able to stay in the Air Force and pay my bills and a less-than-honorable discharge, leading to financial ruin and divorce. I hit a few dirt mounds but managed to place a few on the paper target. Upon finishing, I approached the sergeant in charge of the scoring. I handed him the paper enemy that had clearly gotten away with only a few scratches.
“Huh,” he said, looking at the target. “Not great,” he observed.
I began to panic a little there. I saw my life as it truly was: a meager existence in a sham marriage, depressed and held down at twenty-one years of age by my own rash stupidity. I would have to call my parents and see if they were cool with the Stranger and I living in my old bedroom. I would have to get a minimum-wage job to pay off a mountain of debt. I began hyperventilating, seeing this whole terrible near-future play out when I suddenly heard the sergeant ask me:
“What’s your job again?”
He rolled his eyes, and in a gesture of exasperation, made a check mark next to my name.
“F*ck it. You passed. See you next year.”
“Told in a collection of vignettes, Operation Cure Boredom is a coming of age story in camouflage. From dodging alligators, to surfing the inside of a plane at 30,000 feet, to being taken hostage by a Frenchwoman, and sex education in church, this absurdist portrait of life in the military is both an iconic look at listlessness in wartime, and the whirlwind journey of a young man getting the adventure he didn’t know he needed.” – Amazon
U.S. military investigators found more remains of the Army soldier killed in Niger, the Defense Department announced Nov. 21.
A team with U.S. Africa Command on Nov. 12 discovered additional human remains at the site where Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s body was recovered in the Western African country, according to a statement from Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner on Nov. 21 positively identified them as those of Johnson, White said.
Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, was killed with three other members of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. The others were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.
“We extend our deepest condolences to all of the families of the fallen,” White said.
Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright (left), Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson (center), and Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black. Photos from US Army.
Two more American troops were wounded and five Nigerien troops were also killed in the incident, which occurred near the village of Tongo Tongo in the northwestern part of the country.
The four U.S. service members killed in action were part of a 12-man team from the Army 3rd Special Forces Group that joined a patrol with 30 Nigerien troops. During the firefight, Sgt. La David Johnson became separated from the rest of the group. His body was not recovered until two days after the initial attack.
It wasn’t immediately clear why some of Johnson’s remains were left in the country.
Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, who was angered by what she said was President Donald Trump mispronouncing her husband’s name during a condolence call, said she was prevented from seeing her husband’s body.
“I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband,” she told ABC News last month. “They won’t show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband’s body from head to toe, and they won’t let me see anything.”
Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, a career infantry officer, Iraq veteran and the chief of staff to Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, is leading an Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation into the firefight in western Niger near the Mali border.
Under their rules of engagement, the 12 U.S. soldiers on the patrol “were authorized to accompany Nigerien forces when the prospects for enemy contact was unlikely,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford has said.
Some news outlets, citing defense officials, have reported that the patrol diverted from its reconnaissance mission to pursue an extremist leader thought to be in the area and that Johnson may have been captured and executed.
Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, made some worrying admissions about China’s growing military capabilities, and the US’ decline in technological advances.
“Our adversaries have taken advantage of what I have referred to as a holiday for the United States,” Griffin said April 18, 2018, referring to the West’s victory over its communist rivals in the Cold War. The Pentagon official was speaking at a hearing for the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“China has understood fully how to be a superpower,” Griffin said. “We gave them the playbook and they are executing.”
One problem discussed was anti-access/area denial through the use of hypersonic weapons— missiles or glide vehicles that fly at mach 5 or above, making them so fast that they can bypass almost all current missile defense systems.
“China has fielded or can field … hypersonic delivery systems for conventional prompt strike than can reach out thousands of kilometers from the Chinese shore, and hold our carrier battle groups or our forward deployed forces … at risk,” he said.
He also added that the US does not have a weapon that can similarly threaten the Chinese, and that the US has no defenses against China’s hypersonic missiles.
(U.S. Air Force graphic)
“We, today, do not have systems which can hold them at risk in a corresponding manner, and we don’t have defenses against those systems,” Griffin said, adding that “should they choose to deploy them we would be, today, at a disadvantage.
The statements echo similar warnings that Griffin told the House Armed Services Committee a day before. In that hearing, Griffin said that hypersonic weapons were “the most significant advance” made by the US’ adversaries.
“We will, with today’s defensive systems, not see these things coming,” he said April 17, 2018.
China has already made huge gains over the US when it comes to hypersonic glide vehicles. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said that Russia successfully tested an “invincible” hypersonic cruise missile.
Months after Putin’s announcement, the US Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin with a $1 billion contract to create what is calls “hypersonic conventional strike weapon.”
Boeing made a hypersonic vehicle similar to a cruise missile called the X-51 Waverider which first flew in 2010. The device flew mach 5.1 for 6 minutes during one test.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.