Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.
The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros flub it — even the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons.
Here’s a blooper reel of some of the military’s most embarrassing and dumb social-media mistakes since 2016.
A still image from a video posted by US Strategic Command.
(US Strategic Command)
1. ‘#Ready to drop something much, much bigger’
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, ringed in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.
Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is armed with a 30mm cannon that fires so rapidly that the crack of each bullet blends into a thundering sound.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook)
In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.
The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.”
The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”
Mindy Kaling’s joke briefly got some props from the US Army.
Navy Rear Adm. Dave Thomas took part in an “Undercover Boss”-like segment for a local news channel where he dressed up as a junior enlisted seaman.
When the world’s saltiest “E-3” arrives with a camera crew, it’s like a “Hello, my name is Matt” moment, but the sailors play along. The admiral attempts to scrape rust and load an amphibious landing vehicle under the careful watch of petty officers before the big reveal.
The US Army is considering various systems to better shield tanks and armored vehicles from RPGs, antitank missiles, and other enemy fire.
But the latest version of the RPG, a staple in the arsenals of Russia and other forces, may already be a step ahead of the active-protection systems the US may soon adopt.
The Pentagon has purchased active-protection systems to test out on Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and may even mount them on lighter vehicles, like the successor to the Humvee, according to a report from Scout Warrior.
“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
The Army intends to outfit Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS and Bradley vehicles with the Iron Fist system, which is also Israeli-made. It plans to put the US-made Iron Curtain system on Stryker vehicles. (The Army leased several of the Trophy systems last spring, working with the Marine Corps to test them.)
“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”
The US’s look to APS comes as other countries adopt the technology.
Israeli’s Merkava comes standard with the Trophy, as does Russia’s new T-14 Armata. Both Israel’s and Russia’s tanks, as well as the UK’s Challenger 2, are considered by US officials to be close to or at parity with the US’s mainstay, the Abrams tank. (Though some officials don’t consider the Armata fielded.)
As militaries have adopted active-protection systems and other means to up-armor tanks, arms makers have looked for new antitank weaponry to counter them. Whenever US vehicles equipped with APS join similarly outfitted vehicles in the field, they will face a new challenge from an old foe, the RPG.
The most recent variant, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round, and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to bait the active-protection systems that have become common on armored vehicles in recent years.
A tandem HEAT round carries two explosive charges. One neutralizes a vehicle’s reactive armor (which uses explosions to counter incoming projectiles), and the other is designed to penetrate the armor of the vehicle itself.
“The novelty of the Russian rocket launcher is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time. One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket,” Vladimir Porkhachyov, the director general of arms manufacturer NPO Bazalt, told Russian state news agency Tass of the RPG-30 in September 2015.
The RPG-30 reportedly cleared testing and went into active service with the Russian military sometime between 2012 and 2013. At that point, according to a 2015 report by Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik, the Pentagon put it on its list of “asymmetrical threats to the US armed forces.”
The effectiveness of the RPG-30 against active-protection systems, and whether those systems need be upgraded to adapt to the RPG-30 and similar munitions, remains to be seen. But the RPG — though limited by the size of its warhead — has long been potent on the battlefield, even against modern tanks.
The previous model, the RPG-29, was introduced in 1991 and is still in service with the Russian armed forces. It fires a 105 mm tandem HEAT round and can also fire a thermobaric fuel-air round against bunkers and buildings.
Russian RPG-29s were used by Hezbollah in the mid-2000s, deployed against Israeli tanks and personnel during the 2006 Lebanon War.
According to a Haaretz reportfrom the time, Hezbollah antitank teams using RPG-29s managed on some occasions to get through the armor of Israel’s advanced Merkava tanks.
In other cases, Hezbollah fighters used the RPG-29 to fire on buildings containing Israeli troops, penetrating the walls.
“The majority of Israel Defense Forces ground troops casualties, both infantry and armored, were the result of special antitank units of Hezbollah,” which used other antitank missiles as well, according to the Haaretz report, published in the final days of the conflict and citing intelligence sources.
Those RPG-29s were reportedly supplied to Hezbollah by the Syrian military, which got them from Russia. Moscow disputed those origins, however, with some suggesting they were exported from former Communist bloc countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In August 2006, a RPG-29 was used successfully against a British Challenger 2 tank in southern Iraq.
During operations in Al Amarah, an RPG-29 rocket defeated the reactive armor installed on the Challenger, penetrating the driver’s cabin and blowing off half of one soldier’s foot and wounding several other troops.
UK military officials were accused of a cover-up in 2007, after it emerged that they hadn’t reported the August 2006 incident.
Two years later, during fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City — a Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital — a US M1 Abrams tank was damaged by an RPG-29. (The US has long avoided reactive armor systems but accepted them in recent years as a cheap, easy way to up-armor vulnerable parts of the Abrams, particularly against RPGs.)
During fighting in Iraq, RPG-29s penetrated the armor on the Abrams tanks twice and the Challenger once, according to The National Interest. Other Abrams tanks in Iraq were knocked out by antitank missiles, like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet.
The threat goes beyond tanks. Seven of eight US Army helicopters shot down in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009 were brought down by RPGs.
RPGs remain in service around the world, filling the arsenals of both state and non-state actors, according to the Small Arms Survey. The weapon and parts for it have popped in arms bazaars in Libya in recent years.
The RPG-7, the RPG-29’s predecessor, would be or would likely be used by forces in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Central, South, and East Asia.
Regular and irregular forces in Latin America also have RPGs, and the weapons have made their way into the hands of criminal groups in the region. The Jalisco New Generation cartel reportedly used one to down a Mexican military helicopter in early 2015.
Fernando Trujillo grew out his hair, like many sailors do when they retire. About six years later, he finally cut it — about 28 inches of dark, graying hair — and donated it to make wigs for cancer patients.
“I just decided to let it grow — one less expense,” Trujillo, 49, said in an Armynews release. “In the military, I pretty much had to get my hair cut every two weeks to stay within regulations.”
The 24-year Navy veteran decided to part with his waist-length hair Jan. 18 so he could participate in his younger brother’s upcoming New Mexico National Guard promotion ceremony. But Trujillo, who was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2012, didn’t just want to throw his locks away.
“I’ve lost some friends and family over the years and also had some acquaintances that have had battles with cancer who lost their hair going through radiation,” he said in the release. “I figured my hair would be something that someone could benefit from.”
Currently a contractor at Fort Detrick in Maryland, Trujillo’s been in remission since an operation removed a 10-millimeter tumor from the roof of his mouth. While the treatment was fast, he said the initial cancer diagnosis scared him.
“Your heart just kind of drops and you have that bad feeling, like ‘Damn, how bad is it?'” he said in the release. “The first thing the doctor did was try to calm me down and let me know that everything should be fine. It was just a matter of how much they were going to have to cut out.”
Trujillo lost about 20 pounds after the surgery because the only thing he could eat was pumpkin soup and protein drinks.
Other than some tenderness around the surgical spot in his mouth, he said his life has pretty much returned to normal, which is something cancer patients long for and wigs can help.
“Hopefully, that little bit will be able to help them retain a little dignity out of the whole situation they are facing,” Trujillo said in the release about his donation to Hair We Share. “It’s more about not drawing attention from people who constantly ask questions and feel sorry for you.”
Trump’s speech focused largely on the long history of North Korea’s human-rights abuses, though Trump departed from his past rhetoric by offering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his people “a path to much better future” if the country abandoned its nuclear ambitions.
But returning to typical form, Trump also brought up the US’s victories over ISIS and its nuclear submarines in the region. Trump said misinterpreting the US’s restraint for weakness would be a “fatal miscalculation” by North Korea, and he called on the international community to implement the UN’s strict sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korean officials, who spoke with CNN about the speech, were not thrilled. “We don’t care about what that mad dog may utter because we’ve already heard enough,” they said.
The officials reaffirmed North Korea’s commitment to building nuclear weapons, bringing up the US’s “nuclear aircraft carriers and strategic bombers” before promising to “counter those threats by bolstering the power of justice in order to take out the root cause of aggression and war.”
North Korean officials have repeatedly said they will not look to negotiate with the US until they complete their country’s nuclear weapons program. At the same time, the US remains intent on preventing North Korea from perfecting a nuclear-equipped missile capable of reaching the US mainland.
On Wednesday, Trump arrived in China to talk to President Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Chairman Mao, about North Korea among other things. China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has been unusually helpful in the US’s recent push to increase sanctions on Pyongyang.
Imagine a 150-kiloton nuclear bomb exploded in the city closest to you.
Do you know how the city, its surrounding region, and its inhabitants would be affected? If you can’t think of much more than “a lot of people would die,” you’re not alone.
“We live in a world where nuclear weapons issues are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis, yet most people still have a very bad sense of what an exploding nuclear weapon can actually do,” Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology, wrote on his website, NuclearSecrecy.org.
To illustrate that, Nukemap lets you build a hypothetical nuclear bomb and drop it anywhere on Earth. The software uses declassified equations and models about nuclear weapons and their effects — fireball size, air-blast radius, radiation zones, and more — to crunch the numbers, then renders the results as graphics inside Google Maps.
The first version of Wellerstein’s tool came out in February 2012, but he upgraded it to version 2.5 this month. Users thus far have set off more than 124 million explosions in Nukemap.
Nukemap 2.5’s new features let you see where a cloud of radioactive fallout might drift based on local weather conditions. Fallout refers to the dirt and debris that get sucked up by a nuclear blast, irradiated to dangerous levels, pushed into the atmosphere, and sprinkled over great distances. The updated tool also lets you export your scenarios, load them into mapping software like Google Earth, and explore them in 3D.
“I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different sizes of nuclear weapons change the results,” Wellerstein wrote on his site.
Picking a bomb and a target
We decided to test Nukemap 2.5 using its preset for the North Korean government’s underground test blast on September 3.
Some experts think that device, perhaps a thermonuclear bomb, yielded an explosion of roughly 150 kilotons’ worth of TNT. This was the country’s most powerful nuclear explosion to date — about 10 times as strong as the Hiroshima bomb blast of 1945, which caused some 150,000 casualties.
The main effects of the nuclear blast display as four colored zones:
Fireball (0.56 miles wide): In the area closest to the bomb’s detonation site, flames incinerate most buildings, objects, and people.
Radiation (1.24 miles wide): A nuclear bomb’s gamma and other radiation are so intense in this zone that 50% or more of people die within “several hours to several weeks,” according to Nukemap.
Air blast (4.64 miles wide): This shows a blast area of 5 pounds per square inch, which is powerful enough to collapse most residential buildings and rupture eardrums. “Injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread,” Nukemap says.
Thermal radiation (6.54 miles wide): This region is flooded with skin-scorching ultraviolet light, burning anyone within view of the blast. “Third-degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves,” Nukemap says. “They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation.”
Clicking the “radioactive fallout” option didn’t produce any exposure zones for this hypothetical explosion. A note toward the bottom of our Nukemap results explained: “Your choice of burst height is too high to produce significant local fallout.”
Casualties and radioactive-fallout zones
When we switched the height to “surface burst,” a very different picture emerged: The thermal and air-blast zones shrank, but the fireball nearly doubled in area, and the radiation zone nearly tripled.
We also enabled the new radioactive-fallout settings based on local weather. And to see the human effects, we ticked the “casualties” option, too.
Luckily, local winds in this hypothetical scenario were moving west-southwest, blowing most radioactive fallout into the Pacific Ocean. If a person were to stand outside in a 100-rad-per-hour zone for four hours, they would get 400 rads of radiation exposure, which is enough to kill 50% of people by acute radiation syndrome.
According to Nukemap’s casualty estimator, however, this blast would still kill about 130,000 people and injure 280,000 over the next 24 hours. The tool says this does not include radioactive-fallout effects, among other caveats.
“Modeling casualties from a nuclear attack is difficult,” it says. “These numbers should be seen as evocative, not definitive.”
Google Earth’s view
We were eager to try the export feature, but it appears to need some work.
For example, the fallout zone appeared in an area different from the in-browser calculation — almost due south of San Francisco, instead of west-southwest.
But it was still useful — in a gut-wrenching way — to see the size of a nuclear fireball (the yellow half-dome in the image below) in 3D as it related to a major city, engulfing entire neighborhoods.
Wellerstein and others at Stevens Institute of Technology — based in Hoboken, New Jersey — are working on a related project, called Reinventing Civil Defense, which aims to “develop new communication strategies regarding nuclear risk that have high potential to resonate with a public audience.” The project was awarded a $500,000 grant and is expected to debut in 2019.
In 2018, Navy veteran Anthony Price burned through more than 450 gallons of gasoline and three sets of tires. He spent more than 700 miles in the rain, many days in temperatures above 100 degrees, and at least one day in the snow. He did all of it to honor the families who lost a loved one to America’s wars. And he’s going to do it again in 2019, as he has for the past six years.
The Gold Star Ride of a lifetime.
Price began his ride for Gold Star families in 2013 as a means of calling attention to those families and saying thank you in his own way. Since then, he has been to more than 44 states, enduring extreme temperatures and conditions just to ensure the families of fallen service members are taken care of. As the Gold Star Ride website says, “We ride because they died… We do the work that our fallen heroes would do if they hadn’t fallen for all our freedom.”
Soon the Minnesota-based Price and his fellow riders were a full-fledged nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of helping those in need. Gold Star Riders actively support, comfort, and provide education benefits to Gold Star Families throughout the United States directly with personal visits via motorcycle. They also vow to partner with any group who actively helps these Gold Star families.
“The families themselves are not looking for any stardom or any fame or any glory,” Price says. “They’re just looking for someone to remember, to remember a huge sacrifice.”
The title of Price’s book is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter,” a letter the 16th President penned to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. In it, the President is said to have written his regret at her loss and his attempt to console her by reminding the mother of the Republic they died to save. He ends the letter with “Yours, Very Sincerely and Respectfully.”
Price in an interview with a Fox affiliate.
The letter is an apt reference, as Price describes on commercial producer Jordan Brady’s “Respect the Process” Podcast. Price mentions that he would talk to twenty or so people a day, on average, for two months straight. He found that 19 of those 20 didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. In one case, even a Gold Star Family did not realize they were a Gold Star Family.
To be clear, a Gold Star Family member is the immediate family of any military member who lost their life in military service – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“One of the reasons we do this is because no one else was doing it,” says Price. “Every once in a while I hear someone say ‘you’re adding an element that makes [the loss] a little more palatable… the work you’re doing is helping me make sense of the tragedy I have to go through.'”
A new report compiled by U.S. Senate researchers warns that Russia has been emboldened by its efforts to interfere in U.S. and European elections, and calls for a stronger U.S. response to deter Moscow.
The report, released Jan. 10 by staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, listed a series of policy recommendations to counter what it called “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nearly two-decade-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country.”
The document highlighted various efforts by European governments to counter what researchers called Kremlin policies.
For the United States, the report calls for establishing a single government body to coordinate the U.S. response to Kremlin operations, publicizing assets and wealth held by Kremlin officials and politically connected businessmen in the West, and formalizing various Russia-related sanctions programs into a single designation: “State Hybrid Threat Actor.”
Other recommendations include working more closely with U.S. allies in Europe on a joint approach to deterring Russia and cyberthreats, pressing social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter to be more transparent in political advertising, and reducing European imports of Russian natural gas and oil.
But the report also strongly criticizes President Donald Trump’s administration, saying its response has emboldened Moscow.
“Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president,” it says.
The White House did not respond to requests for reaction to the report.
In the past, Trump officials have given mixed messages about how to deal with Russia, with Trump himself espousing more conciliatory policies, while others backing stronger responses, including financial sanctions and more U.S. military weaponry for European allies.
The Republican-controlled Congress, meanwhile, has pushed forward with Russia-related legislation, largely in response to the U.S. intelligence agencies’ finding that Moscow actively meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
In August, lawmakers passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act overwhelmingly and the measure was reluctantly signed into law by Trump.
Russia has repeatedly denied any effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
On Jan. 8, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov rejected assertions by CIA chief Mike Pompeo that Moscow planned to meddle in the November 2018 elections that will determine whether the Republicans retain control over both houses of Congress.
The report was authored by staffers working for Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and commissioned by the panel’s lead Democrat, Ben Cardin, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.
Asked at a briefing on Jan. 9 why Republican committee staffers or members were not involved in the report, staffers insisted that Republicans would be supportive its findings and recommendations.
I have Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). There, I said it. Now I must be one of America’s “poor, broken warriors” that just doesn’t belong at home or in the workplace. I guess I should now explain how debilitating this injury can be or how no one is helping me. Maybe it was the time in the service that broke me. Yet, all those assumptions are untrue. In reality, I have never felt better.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve married, become a father and not only held a job but risen to a leadership role. I am far from broken and so are the rest of my military brothers and sisters. There is no doubt my path had ups and downs. There may have even been a few rock bottoms, but nothing was actually ever as bad as it seemed at the time. The bottom line is that PTS is scary. It’s terrifying, that for the first time in your life, you don’t have a say in what is happening within your own mind. As many of my fellow veterans already know, courage is rising above fear. In our own minds, we have to find courage every day.
My first panic attack was the most embarrassing. I was driving home a few months after my third deployment to Iraq. My little brother was in the passenger seat when the phone rang. I answered it and the impersonal voice told me, “you have duty on Monday.” It was Saturday. I hung up the phone and grabbed the steering wheel with a death grip. I just could not comprehend how my schedule two days in the future had changed. Slowly my vision narrowed. My breathing became labored. My eyes teared up. The look on my brother’s face turned pale white with terror. I slammed on the brakes and broke down. The years of deployments came flowing out. The phone call was just the tipping point for me. Duty didn’t matter. As veterans will attest, schedules change all the time. It was such an innocent call. Yet, this time was different. The circuits in my brain had reached capacity. There was just no more room left for even a minor change. I stared at my younger brother as he sat in silence. I knew I was not okay.
It took another two years before I did anything about my fractured mind. Frankly, I avoided my thoughts. I tried to hide my injury. I was convinced that I could fix myself just as I had done with every other challenge in my life. First, I tried working out. It helped a little. Then, I tried booze. It helped too much. Lastly, I tried writing. It was too painful. Not surprisingly, nothing actually worked until I went to see a doctor.
I avoided seeking help for years because I was scared of what would happen to my body and career. Let me dispel any rumors right now. PTS treatment is designed to fix you. Not give you a scarlet letter for life. My family and the men with whom I served were nothing but supportive throughout the entire process. Despite my own fears, I was never pulled from a deployment or seen as weak. Once again, I learned that PTS was all about fear. My own fear of something that wasn’t real.
For six weeks, I went through Cognitive Processing Therapy. I was hesitant at first. I didn’t think that discussing old memories would help. It seemed like a lot of useless talk. I was wrong. I analyzed my memories over and over again. My doctor asked me to write about them even though they were painful. In the end, I came to realize the things I remembered had become like a bad game of telephone etched into my brain. These memories had changed over the years and my brain had rebuilt itself to survive them.
Over 10 years of service, my brain had changed. It had become a truly lethal muscle. I could sense danger and act faster than most, but I could barely process an email, endure a traffic jam or sit through a phone call. Only after seeking help, I learned that I could retrain my mind. I just needed to break down old nerve endings and create new ones. After many days and too many sleepless nights, I learned some truly important things about living with PTS.
First, invest in yourself. There was no one who could make me a Marine and a Green Beret. I had to do that myself. There is no one who could fix my brain but me. I had to commit myself to the task. Rebuilding your brain is like remodeling your house. You keep the stuff you like and knock down the stuff you don’t. I kept honor, sacrifice and pride. I threw out guilt, sorrow and anger. At first, my transformation moved slowly. But when I truly invested in me, my brain changed. I became a better soldier, husband and friend.
Second, it’s all about control. I gained a control complex in the military. Like most 20 year olds, I thought I could control the world. But in my reality, I actually did. People lived and some even died by the decisions I made. My brain thrived off of control. I craved it, demanded it and needed it. But true control is never possible. The only thing in this world we can control is ourselves. For almost a decade, I had it wrong. I thought I could control the world without concern for myself. The switch happened gradually, but became evident when I let my wife drive me to work on a Tuesday. For the first time in almost a decade, I let someone else take control. It felt amazing.
Lastly, and most importantly, you have to know your limits. There are some things that your brain can handle well and others it won’t. Everyone’s limits are different. For me, I don’t go into overcrowded places at night. Why? Am I afraid that I will have panic attack? No. I just know that my brain goes into mental overdrive in places like that and I won’t have fun. I did reteach myself patience. In war, patience can be lethal. At home, it is expected. I don’t get angry when I have to wait for things. Veterans, this one is the most important, especially for any of you who have just entered the daunting VA process. Waiting is just time and none of us can control it. There will also be some things that are difficult to get back and age doesn’t help. Sure, it is much harder to remember minor details or focus like I used to be able to, but I also don’t run six minute miles anymore. You learn to live with it.
I do know for certain that by committing to PTS treatment, I have explored places in my mind that I didn’t even know existed. You get to re-write your own personal story and you may find that the plot has changed. I am a Green Beret that likes poetry, statistics and even watching The Voice. Yeah, I am part nerd but I am also part warrior. I would have never been able to know both parts of me without PTS. I am thankful I lost my mind for America. For those of you who are suffering or lost today, I am confident you will find the way as well. Good luck with the journey my brothers and sisters. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
The chance that a nuclear bomb would strike a US city is slim, but nuclear experts say it’s not out of the question.
A nuclear attack in a large metropolitan area is one of the 15 disaster scenarios for which the US Federal Emergency Management Agency has an emergency strategy. The agency’s plan involves deploying first responders, providing immediate shelter for evacuees, and decontaminating victims who have been exposed to radiation.
For everyday citizens, FEMA has some simple advice: Get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned.
But according to Irwin Redlener, a public-health expert at Columbia University who specializes in disaster preparedness, these federal guidelines aren’t enough to prepare a city for a nuclear attack.
“There isn’t a single jurisdiction in America that has anything approaching an adequate plan to deal with a nuclear detonation,” he said.
That includes the six urban areas that Redlener thinks are the most likely targets of a nuclear attack: New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. These cities are not only some of the largest and densest in the country, but home to critical infrastructure (like energy plants, financial hubs, government facilities, and wireless transmission systems) that are vital to US security.
Each city has an emergency-management website that informs citizens about what to do in a crisis, but most of those sites (except for LA and New York) don’t directly mention a nuclear attack. That makes it difficult for residents to learn how to protect themselves if a bomb were to hit one of those cities.
“It would not be the end of life as we know it,” Redlener said of that scenario. “It would just be a horrific, catastrophic disaster with many, many unknown and cascading consequences.”
Cities might struggle to provide emergency services after a nuclear strike
Nuclear bombs can produce clouds of dust and sand-like radioactive particles that disperse into the atmosphere — what’s referred to as nuclear fallout. Exposure to this fallout can result in radiation poisoning, which can damage the body’s cells and prove fatal.
The debris takes at least 15 minutes to reach ground level after an explosion, so a person’s response during that period could be a matter of life and death. People can protect themselves from fallout by immediately seeking refuge in the center or basement of a brick steel or concrete building — preferably one without windows.
“A little bit of information can save a lot of lives,” Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Business Insider. Buddemeier advises emergency managers about how to protect populations from nuclear attacks.
The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.
“If we can just get people inside, we can significantly reduce their exposure,” he said.
The most important scenario to prepare for, according to Redlener, isn’t all-out nuclear war, but a single nuclear explosion such as a missile launch from North Korea. Right now, he said, North Korean missiles are capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii, but they could soon be able to reach cities along the West Coast.
Another source of an attack could be a nuclear device that was built, purchased, or stolen by a terrorist organization. All six cities Redlener identified are listed as “Tier 1” areas by the US Department of Homeland Security, meaning they’re considered places where a terrorist attack would yield the most devastation.
“There is no safe city,” Redlener said. “In New York City, the detonation of a Hiroshima-sized bomb, or even one a little smaller, could have anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 fatalities — depending on the time of day and where the action struck — and hundreds of thousands of people injured.”
Some estimates are even higher. Data from Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear-weapons historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology, indicates that a 15-kiloton explosion (like the one in Hiroshima) would result in more than 225,000 fatalities and 610,000 injuries in New York City.
Under those circumstances, not even the entire state of New York would have enough hospital beds to serve the wounded.
(Photo by jonathan riley)
“New York state has 40,000 hospital beds, almost all of which are occupied all the time,” Redlener said.
He also expressed concern about what might happen to emergency responders who tried to help.
“Are we actually going to order National Guard troops or US soldiers to go into highly radioactive zones? Will we be getting bus drivers to go in and pick up people to take them to safety?” he said. “Every strategic or tactical response is fraught with inadequacies.”
Big cities don’t have designated fallout shelters
In 1961, around the height of the Cold War, the US launched the Community Fallout Shelter Program, which designated safe places to hide after a nuclear attack in cities across the country. Most shelters were on the upper floors of high-rise buildings, so they were meant to protect people only from radiation and not the blast itself.
In 2017, New York City officials began removing the yellow signs that once marked these shelters to avoid the misconception that they were still active.
Redlener said there’s a reason the shelters no longer exist: Major cities like New York and San Francisco are in need of more affordable housing, making it difficult for city officials to justify reserving space for food and medical supplies.
“Can you imagine a public official keeping buildings intact for fallout shelters when the real-estate market is so tight?” Redlener said.
‘This is part of our 21st-century reality’
Redlener said many city authorities worry that even offering nuclear-explosion response plans might induce panic among residents.
“There’s fear among public officials that if they went out and publicly said, ‘This is what you need to know in the event of a nuclear attack,’ then many people would fear that the mayor knew something that the public did not,” he said.
(Photo by Henning Witzel)
But educating the public doesn’t have to be scary, Buddemeier said.
“The good news is that ‘Get inside, stay inside, stay tuned’ still works,” he said. “I kind of liken it to ‘Stop, drop, and roll.’ If your clothes catch on fire, that’s what you should do. It doesn’t make you afraid of fire, hopefully, but it does allow you the opportunity to take action to save your life.”
Both experts agreed that for a city to be prepared for a nuclear attack, it must acknowledge that such an attack is possible — even if the threat is remote.
“This is part of our 21st-century reality,” Redlener said. “I’ve apologized to my children and grandchildren for leaving the world in such a horrible mess, but it is what it is now.”
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In a foreign policy world full of different carrots and sticks, the CIA used an interesting incentive to dangle from a pole of enticements: Viagra.
Where money and guns have been the traditional tools of clandestine diplomacy, the New York Times’ CIA sources say the big blue pill was renowned by aging Afghan warlords who have multiple wives to satisfy.
Running money to informants is difficult for the Agency. To keep their assets in place (that is to say, to keep them alive and feeding information) money isn’t always the best motivator. According to the New York Times’ CIA source, the informant will run out and buy conspicuous items with his new funds.
It won’t be hard to figure out where he got those funds.
Guns are another troublesome carrot for potential informants. The CIA has to assume that – in the Afghan world of fluid allegiances – any arms given to today’s ally could be used against American troops by tomorrow’s enemy.
So a magic blue pill that revitalizes an aging man’s libido while invigorating the same man’s ego is a perfect way to cement an uneasy alliance. The nature of the gift keeps the reward from being too obvious or flashy while at the same time, not being something potentially dangerous to U.S. troops in the country.
While Viagra is relatively well-known in Afghanistan (and reportedly sold in markets in the country), CIA officers operating in remote areas have to earn the trust of tribal leaders and be careful not to offend their religious sensibilities when making the initial pitch.
They also have to be careful not to offend anyone’s ego when explaining just what the pill does.
No word on whether Cialis is planning an expansion into the Afghan marketplace.
Cmdr. Stephen Matadobra holds the distinction of being one of the Coast Guard’s first officers in the service to have earned the permanent cutterman status (earned in 1987), and he will soon hold the title of the Coast Guard’s 15th Gold Ancient Mariner in May 2018.
The Gold Ancient Mariner title dates back to 1978 in which the Coast Guard recognizes the officer with the most sea time, an honorary position that serves as a reminder of the call to duty on the high seas.
In September 2018, Matadobra will celebrate 41 years of Coast Guard service, in which time he climbed the enlisted ranks from a seaman to a boatswain’s mate before becoming a chief warrant officer. From there he climbed the officer ranks to captain.
Hailing from the seaside Brooklyn neighborhood of Coney Island, New York, Matadobra joined the Coast Guard at 17 because of his interest in marine biology. Once assigned to his first cutter however, he struck boatswain’s mate and never looked back.
“Every cutter was unique,” said Matadobra.
As a junior enlisted member, Matadobra was involved in law enforcement and search and rescue operations during the mass migrations of the Cuban Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Later assigned to an 82-foot patrol boat out of Florida, Matadobra took part in the salvage operation immediately following the collision and sinking of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn in 1980 in Tampa Bay. Twenty-three Coast Guard members perished that day – the service’s worst peacetime loss of life.
In his 41 years of service, Matadobra has experienced peaks and valleys of our organization that have helped shape his leadership style.
When asked about mentors throughout his career, Matadobra wistfully recalled a few master chief petty officers and chief warrant officers who gave him “swift kicks in the butt,” but ultimately pointed to his peers as the trusted pillars upon which he leans, specifically citing Capt. Doug Fears, with whom he served on the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton.
Having advanced from seaman to commander, Matadobra has embodied each station’s specific operational responsibilities and perspectives. When asked about his biggest impressions from having transitioned from enlisted member to officer, he described a concept that he’s coined as “Big Coast Guard” – that is, the big picture frameworks in which the commissioned among us must navigate. If the enlisted world has more to do with the: who, what, when and where aspects, then the officer’s world is more dominated by the why’s.
Matadobra recalled a story Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Isherwood once told him about a new fireman aboard a cutter who was instructed by his supervisor to go down below at a certain time every afternoon to open a particular valve. The fireman did as he was told, albeit without understanding why. As such, it was easy for him to do it begrudgingly – seen as a chore, primarily. Only after months of this repetitive chore did his supervisor tell him that the valve he opened every night was one that allowed the cooks to prepare dinner with hot water, as well as route hot water to the showers for the rest of the crew. In this new-found understanding of “why” the fireman’s entire perspective shifted and he operated under a renewed sense of duty and purpose.
“Leaders help their middle and junior folks understand ‘why,’ and understand their role in ‘Big Coast Guard,'” said Matadobra.
Professionalism and proficiency is also at the forefront of his agenda.
“As an advocate for the cutterman community, and the Coast Guard at large, I continue to preach the obligations of professionalism and proficiency,” said Matadobra. “Our platforms are so much more technically complex than they used to be, and it takes smart people to run them and to maintain proficiency.”
In fact, Matadobra will appropriately be assuming responsibilities at the Enlisted Personnel Management division in his next assignment, helping to further shape the future of our enlisted workforce.