Four crashed aircrew members scatter into knee-high desert brush searching for a spot to blend-in with the environment. There’s nothing but a dying, desolate landscape as far as the eye can see. And yet, they need to disappear. These aircrew are being hunted.
Rustling through the brush downwind of the pilots is a man and his dog.
The duo presses on with the hunt, despite being at a disadvantage. The dog puts his nose to the air and takes in short, quick breaths, but an unrelenting mist keeps the aircrew’s scents from being carried by the wind. They traverse miles of mud and brush, stopping every-so-often to stare out into the seemingly endless tan and brown canvas laid out before them.
No matter how this ordeal ends, both sides will be better for it.
Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 336th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, and Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, acting as opposition forces, hunt down pilots to enhance the combat readiness of both parties during a search and rescue operation as part of a Gunfighter Flag exercise at Saylor Creek Range Complex, Idaho.
Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, gives Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, a water break while acting as opposition forces to hunt down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019, at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
Gunfighter Flag concentrates on preparing airmen to be ready to overcome obstacles that may appear in a deployed environment. Padilla plays a unique role in that preparation.
“When we are at the range, scouting for pilots, we are not only testing the survival skills of our pilots, but also honing the capabilities and teamwork between MWDs and their trainers,” Padilla said.
To effectively enhance readiness this training has to be exactly like the real deal.
“Finding a way to simulate stress is important,” said Staff Sgt. David H. Chorpening, 366th Operation Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of survival, evasion, resistance, escape operations.
Screams riddled with anguish and anxiety filled the air as each aircrew member suffered a bite from Alf.
U.S. Air Force Alf, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, acts as opposition forces and hunts down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019 at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
The aircrew was protected by a bite-suit, but the stress they experienced was almost tangible, and not easily forgotten.
Incorporating stress into these scenarios helps ingrain the survival process and procedures into the minds of airmen to ensure they will be able to act on it in the field, Chorpening said.
Padilla and Alf bring a dose of stressful realism to the exercise through Alf’s vicious bite and undying loyalty that, consequently, often inflicts fear into whoever they pursue.
However, to be frightening is one thing, to be ready for deployment is another. That requires MWDs to be well-trained, obedient and skilled. Developing that in a MWD, like Alf, takes time and dedicated trainers.
Padilla said that there is a process of building rapport with new dogs, solidifying their commands, and exposing them to realistic situations like bite-work and detection that has to take place before they are cleared for deployment.
Ultimately, MWDs are tested in exercises like scouting for aircrew members in a vast environment with endless hiding places. This serves as a great preparation tool for MWDs and their trainers.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, and Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, act as opposition forces and hunt down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019 at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
As an MWD and its trainer work together, they understand each other better and are able to work cohesively, Padilla said. “On a scout, the dog leads the way, but we are a team,” Padilla said. “Alf’s senses are a lot better than a human’s. Alf will often see, hear or smell a potential target before I do. Then I am able to decipher whether or not it is what we are looking for or if we should move on.”
It is a rigorous journey to become a MWD but in the end they are able to save lives in real-world situations and through readiness exercises like Gunfighter Flag.
“This training is so beneficial for trainers and their dogs to gain the experience of realistic training,” Padilla said. “What is even better is the dualistic nature of the exercise that enables pilots to improve their survival and evasion tactics simultaneously.”
The search and rescue exercise at Saylor Creek Range Complex may be a single piece of Gunfighter Flag, but is vital nonetheless because of the life saving potential it holds. Padilla and Alf continue to diligently work towards enhancing the readiness of themselves and the aircrew they hunt.
When a newlywed troop moves off base and bids a bittersweet farewell to the debauchery of barracks life, there are changes to the day-to-day routine. While one must still fulfill the responsibilities of their rank, there are other challenges a married troop will have to tackle.
The more obvious ones are waking up earlier to fight traffic, no more access to a meal card, and administrating bills that didn’t exist before. To make your transition to a quasi-civilian life easier, there are a few essential items to have in your home that will help you focus more on mission accomplishment, enjoy quality time with your sweetheart, and maintain peace of mind while in the field or deployed.
A pull-up bar and dumbbells
There are plenty of pull-up bars on base and you’ll more than likely have an opportunity to hit the gym because you’re two hours early to formation to avoid a UA or AWOL charge because of bad traffic. However, you may not have the opportunity to work out in the mornings because of a hot-ticket task that requires the use of your otherwise-scheduled workout time. It’ll devolve into a vicious cycle, resulting in no PT and the consequences that come with it.
You’ll most likely be cut from work when rush hour hits and you’ll have to make a decision: work out or work on your marriage. Luckily, if you have a pull-up bar at home, you can PT when you get there and do both. Dumbbells are another staple to have at home for a complete workout.
Although the majority of troops have a properly calibrated moral compass, it doesn’t mean your civilian neighbors share your altruistic ideals. Security cameras are a good investment because you can check on your home from your mobile device at work or, if you have internet access, in the field. Peace of mind is expensive, but your odds of bringing a thief to justice increase exponentially with video footage.
Imagine you’re sitting there on your pack waiting for the trucks to pick you up on base when you suddenly have a realization: I left the lights on. If you have smart lightbulbs installed, you can turn them off using your phone remotely. I highly advise doing your brand research before you buy these bulbs because not all brands are safe to connect to your network at home. To put it simply, some companies do not want to invest in cybersecurity software for their products, and this can leave your network vulnerable to attack.
Robot vacuum cleaners
Replacing good, old-fashioned cleaning with technology is not immediately viable, but it’s getting closer by the day. A robot vacuum cleaner can be set on a schedule to sweep up dust and light debris and will buy you some more precious time to prioritize on another task. You’ll be able to give your home a thorough cleaning when you deem necessary. They work best on floors without carpet, but they can also operate well on short-length, fiber carpets.
Jody doesn’t have sh*t on this.
A formal civilian wardrobe
We warriors love our comfortable clothing when we don’t have to wear the uniform of the day. Your favorite shirt and jeans may cut it for most occasions because who cares what other people think? You’re paying for the price of freedom and, dammit, you want to enjoy some of it from time to time.
While this line of thinking is admirable in most circles, there is a time and a place for everything. You don’t necessarily have to have a closet full of suits, but a few slacks, button-up shirts, a sports coat, and a pair of dress shoes will go a long way for when you have to be somewhere important. Your wife will appreciate you taking the time to look nice when you have to be at an event that’s important to her. Think about it, at your formal events, she always does her best to look her best — return the sentiment.
The people have spoken
Honorable mention: Stockpiled alcohol
The last time I made an article like this, I received some constructive criticism. I am a man who believes in giving the people what they want. So, here ya go.
Anyone who’s ever deployed can tell you there’s more to worry about in the field than just the enemy. While of course the North Vietnamese were the primary concern of American troops in the Vietnam War, just being in the jungle presented an entirely unexpected series of its own challenges – like giant centipedes.
Rumors persisted about things like fragging, rampant drug use, and even the appearance of Bigfoot in Vietnam. But when US troops weren’t earning the Medal of Honor while completely stoned, they were fighting off things that only previously appeared in their nightmares.
As seen in the cover photo of this post, the creepy crawlers of the jungle have the space and the food necessary to grow to an insane level. That guy in the photo is Scolopendra subspinipes, also known as the Vietnamese centipede, Chinese redhead, or Jungle Centipede. It’s extremely aggressive, and its venomous bite hurts like hell, sources say. But the fun doesn’t stop with centipedes, giant scorpions were also known to bother American troops in bivouac.
Imagine you’re in some kind of tank or armored vehicle, busting down trees in the jungle when suddenly, you bust down the wrong tree, one filled with a nest of red ants. These buggers were reportedly immune to the issued bug spray and, given the choice between NVA small arms fire and dealing with red ants in the tank, tank crews would either bail on the tank or man the vehicle completely naked. They were often referred to as “communist ants” because they were red in color and never seemed to attack the Vietnamese.
Very pretty, but also what the KGB used to kill dissidents.
Troops in Vietnam were sometimes lifted right up out of troop carriers and other vehicles by low-hanging vines that seemed innocent at first, but as soon as they were touched, constricted around an unsuspecting driver, grabbing them by the arms or neck. They became known as the “wait-a-minute” vines. But that’s just the beginning.
Vietnam’s most beautiful trees and flowers are also its deadliest. Heartbreak Grass, Flame Lillies, Twisted Cord Flowers, and Bark Cloth Trees are all powerful enough to kill a human or cause blindness upon contact or accidental ingestion, which is more common than one might think.
Bring that flamethrower back over here.
You know what kinds of animals love a hot, humid place with lots of shade? Reptiles and amphibians, both of which Vietnam has in droves. Vietnam has so many snakes, American troops were advised to just assume they were all deadly – because most of them are. The country is filled with Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, and more. The snakes that weren’t venomous were all giant constrictors, still very capable of murdering you in your jungle sleep.
Yes, troops were mauled by tigers.
Since we’re talking about giant jungle snakes, we should discuss the other giant creatures that inhabit the wilds of Vietnam. Southeast Asia is also home to aggressive tiger species, leopards, and bears. Those are just the traditional predators. There are also elephants, water buffaloes, and gaurs, giant cows, who will go on a murder rampage that an M-16 isn’t likely to stop.
In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing Thursday, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis said it would be an honor to serve again, mentioned myriad challenges in the world, and brought up a touching personal story about his mother — showing how his family’s military ties and career have come full circle.
“Finally, on a personal note, I’ve worked at the Pentagon twice in my career,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A few people may know I’m not the first person in my family to do so, when, in the wartime spring of 1942, my mother was 20 years-old and working in military intelligence. She was part of the first government employees to move into the still unfinished Pentagon.”
“She had come to America as an infant and lives today on the banks of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Little could she imagine in her youth that more than 90 years after she immigrated to this country and 75 years after she first walked through the doors of the War Department, one of her sons would be sitting here in front of you today.”
Mattis is right about that. A neighbor and close friend of his mother in Richland, Washington told a reporter in December that she was amazed at what he had accomplished in his career, and apparently his mother said “I can’t even believe he’s my son.”
Neither his mother nor other family members made the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the 66-year-old retired general testify. When asked by Republican Sen. John McCain whether he wanted to recognize any family members in the audience, Mattis quipped: “Thank you Senator. They are safely west of the Rockies.”
Before Mattis spoke, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen testified in support of the general and also mentioned his 94-year-old mother, who he said he was a “devoted son” to. Cohen also mentioned Mattis remains a member of a local food bank in the area.
The Army has chosen a new semi-automatic sniper rifle, replacing the M110 which entered service in 2008.
According to reports by the Army Times, the winning rifle was the Heckler Koch G28. According to the the company’s website, the G28 is a version of the HK 417 battle rifle — itself a variation of the AR-10 rifle.
This came after a 2014 request for proposals for a more compact version of the M110. The M110 is being replaced despite the fact that it was named one of the Army’s “Best 10 Inventions” in 2007, according to M110 manufacturer Knight’s Armament website.
So, what is behind the replacement of a rifle that was widely loved by soldiers after it replaced the M24 bolt-action system? According to Military.com, it was to get something less conspicuous as a sniper rifle. The M110 is 13 inches longer than a typical M4 carbine, something an enemy sniper would be able to notice.
Being conspicuous is a good way to attract enemy fire.
The new M110A1 does provide some relief in that department, being about 2.5 inches shorter than the M110. More importantly for the grunt carrying it, it is about three pounds lighter than the M110.
Both the M110 and the M110A1 fire the NATO standard 7.62x51mm cartridge, and both feature 20-shot magazines. The Army plans to spend just under $45 million to get 3,643 M110A1s. That comes out to $12,000 a rifle, plus all the logistical and support needs for the Army, including the provision of spare parts.
The Army has long made use of semi-automatic sniper rifles. During the Vietnam War, a modified version of the M14 known as the M21 was used by the service’s snipers. One of those snipers, Adelbert Waldron, was America’s top sniper in that conflict, scoring 109 confirmed kills.
Forty years ago, a two-day, American rescue mission launched on April 24 to free the hostages held by Iran in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For John Limbert, who was held hostage for more than a year during his role as a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, it feels like yesterday.
Last fall, the documentary “Desert One” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, telling the story of Operation Eagle Claw, the secret mission to free the hostages.
“For better or worse, the film does bring back memories,” Limbert told We Are The Mighty.
“Memories fade, you don’t remember all the details and particularly when you’re in the middle of it, but that was one of the powers of the film.”
Desert One is a 107-minute documentary directed by Barbara Kopple. The film gives viewers an intimate look into the military response led by then-President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 hostages that were being detained in Tehran, Iran in the U.S. Embassy and Foreign Ministry buildings. Ultimately, the mission was aborted due to unoperational helicopters, with zero hostages rescued, eight servicemen dead and several others severely wounded. The crisis received near 24-hour news coverage and is widely considered a component of Carter’s eventual landslide loss to Ronald Reagan.
Through interviews with hostages, Delta Force soldiers, military personnel and President Carter, as well as animation done by an Iranian artist intimately familiar with the topography of the country, Kopple’s film chronicles the mission from every aspect, taking care to tell the story through people who lived it, a detail that was paramount for the two-time Academy Award winner.
“You can’t tell a story unless you have a lot of different angles of people coming at it from different places,” Kopple said. “They’re all feeling something. Whether it’s the special operators, or the hostages, or the people in Carter’s administration – there are so many different elements to it, which is also why it drew us in. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Why should we tell everything about the Americans’ experience and not tell everyone about the Iranian’s experience? We’ve got to know these things exist to communicate. That’s so important. It’s a tough thing to do, but a very important thing to do.”
The ill-fated Operation marked the emergence of special operations in the American military. In 1986, Congress passed the Nunn-Cohen Amendment, citing this tragedy as part of their justification. The amendment mandated the President create a unified combatant command for Special Operations, and permitted the command to have control over its own resources.
“The film captures the best of our military colleagues,” Limbert explained. “This wasn’t a suicide mission, but that’s what it was. They didn’t have to go, but they did it. I have nothing but admiration for them. It was me and my colleagues that they were trying to rescue. They were willing to do this for people they didn’t know. It’s absolutely amazing. That’s the strength of the film. That willingness to self sacrifice so beautifully.”
Added Kopple, “What I felt is that these guys were all willing to give up their lives for the rescue. That was incredible that they wanted to get the American hostages out and they were a team. Even if one of them doubted it, they thought … well my buddies are going. They all had each other’s back — that thing inside of them not to leave anybody behind. That was their duty and that was their job.”
For Kopple, the hardest part of the filmmaking process was tracking down President Carter to speak on camera for his role in the mission and how it impacted his presidential legacy.
“I tried for three months [to get access] and there’s a guy named Phil who works for his administration who would never call me back,” she said. “So I started to have a relationship with his voicemail. I would tell them all about filming and every few days, I would call and beg him, ‘Please let us film President Carter.’ Three months had gone by and Phil called, and he introduced himself and I said, ‘I know, I’d know your voice anywhere.'”
Kopple was eventually granted just 20 minutes of access to the former president for the making of the film.
“He gave us 19 minutes and 47 seconds and we used a lot of it in Desert One,” Kopple said.
Desert One is expected to be released in movie theaters in late 2020 or early 2021, with an eventual television debut on the HISTORY channel.
“When you’re [making a film], you don’t think – where will this show?” Kopple said. “Hopefully the film presents an opportunity for Iranian and American audiences to find healing and reconcile with this very complicated history, not to stereotype people, [and] to really see who people are as individuals.”
When talking about the do’s and don’ts of taking on the Special Operations Assessment and Selection courses that the military has to offer, there are a ton of opinions out there, and I feel, a lot of misconceptions as well. This is particularly true when it comes to being the “Grey Man,” which is a common name people use to describe an operator who can blend seamlessly into their environment.
I’ve been asked about this countless times in emails. One of the more common questions I receive from prospective candidates is always about trying to blend in at Assessment and Selection — being the Grey Man. I spoke with someone just in the past few weeks about this very subject.
There is no shortage of people who will tell you being the Grey Man is important, some of them will be Special Operations Selection cadre members. So, respectively, I’ll disagree. Overall, unless you’re an intelligence professional trained at blending in and being invisible, I will stick with my original advice and say in the majority of instances, it isn’t a smart thing to do. I will explain why below, but first, my caveat:
Yes, there are times when you absolutely, positively need to be the guy people standing in front of you are going to look right past while giving their “attention” to someone else.
The first one is if you are in SERE School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). The last thing you want at SERE is to stand out in any way. Standing out to the guard force in the POW camp usually means you’re going to withstand some “corrective measures.”
Being the biggest member of the prisoners or the most senior guy in the SERE Class is not a good way to be the grey man. The SRO (Senior Ranking Officer) is always singled out for real or perceived rules infractions….you get the idea. Once you get through the Selection process and into the training pipeline, you’ll get to experience SERE up close and personal and all of your questions will be answered.
The second example of when it’s a good time to be a “grey man” is when you’re doing some kind of undercover intelligence work. Then you want to blend into your surroundings. If someone saw you walking down a busy street in an urban environment, you don’t want to raise an alarm among surveillance operatives watching for that type of operation.
This has a lot to do with demeanor, dress, mannerisms, and movement. Special Forces has a training program that teaches all of this and much more. But the course and the acronym associated with it will come after your training is complete and you move on to the operational units and get some experience under your belt.
So, we’re back to the 800-lb gorilla in the room, and the question is, “Why not be the grey man during Selection?” You will see blog posts from people, message boards, and social media posts all telling candidates “Be the grey man” or something remotely similar. I see it all the time. So why is it actually a bad idea?
As a former Selection cadre member, I’ll let you in on my perceptions: Trying to be the Grey Man just may put a huge bulls-eye on your forehead.
As I mentioned above, most people aren’t trained properly to be a grey man. And if it appears to the Selection cadre that you are trying to blend into the background, that isn’t a good thing. To the cadre members, it appears like you’re trying to “ghost” through events (as we called it during my time there). And if a guy is going to ghost during Selection, then he certainly will on a team.
Back in the day, when I had the night duty during a course, one of the other cadre members and I would wander around the candidates’ barracks at night with no berets, just being the “grey men” of the cadre. We wanted to hear the chatter of the class and see how well or not-so-well they were holding up.
These conversations would sometimes be quite telling, especially during team week. More than once, we heard candidates who passed their patrol (the criteria has since changed, thank you LTC Brian Decker) talk about coasting through the last few events to make it through the long-range movement. Bad idea.
Then there were the others, guys who passed their patrol and were volunteering to help out the next day’s guys who would be in the barrel and under the microscope. More than once we heard conversations similar to this:
“Hey bud, whatever happens, tomorrow, put me on lashings, I’m really good at that, and that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.”
That’s the guy I want on my team. He’s not done yet, he’s looking out for his teammates. He’s going to get high marks on his peer reports.
Special Operations isn’t looking for cookie-cutter robots. We understand that everyone is different and there are certainly guys who are characters. You’ll undoubtedly have some in your class.
That’s why my advice is always, “be yourself.” When I was there, our cadre was made up of the most eclectic group of people that I’ve ever worked with. There was never a dull moment and every NCO, although vastly different, respected who each one of us was. And we all got along because we had the humility to understand that every person brings some unique element to the table.
If you’re a rah-rah type of guy, then be that guy. If you are a quiet, lead by example type of guy, that’s fine…be him. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Sometimes the characters of the class would lift everyone around him. All of the cadre members had those types of guys in their own classes, and they know how valuable they are to keeping up class morale, and for team-building.
My own class in the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course) had a tremendous NCO who we called “CPT Camouflage” during Land Nav. He would wear some outlandish get-up; PT Shorts hiked way too high, jungle boots, with a poncho pulled over his head like a cape with eye holes cut out. He’d run through the woodline offering the craziest encouragement to “lost Land Nav Students everywhere.” As dumb as it sounds, our class loved it. And after a day or so, the cadre would ask if “Captain Camouflage” had any words for the class after we’d return from the day’s or night’s navigation practice.
I recently recorded a podcast with Mike Sarraille, a Navy SEAL officer who has written a book on Special Operations leadership and how civilian companies should incorporate the lessons of Selection and Assessment into their hiring process.
Mike was a successful Marine NCO with Recon before becoming an officer. During BUDs training to become a SEAL, the other members of his class naturally gravitated toward Mike because of his experience, military bearing, and demeanor. That’s who he is. If he tried to blend into the background, the SEAL instructors would have seen right through that and he would have never passed or gone on to become the officer he was.
Of course, “be yourself” has to be tempered with a bit of common sense. Don’t be overly argumentative with the cadre… even if you know that you may be right when receiving a critique. That will have the exact opposite effect of your intentions. Don’t be a “Spotlight Ranger” either — those types never last long as they’ll get peered out quickly (failed by peer reviews). And please spare your war stories about leading an attack with the 18th Mess Kit Repair Unit in Iraq or someplace else. Nobody cares about that or is interested.
Remember you are always being evaluated and assessed. This is a time for the cadre to see if you have the core attributes that make Special Operations troops the best in the world. Selection is the time where you begin building the reputation that will follow throughout your Special Operations career. And as big as it has grown, it is still a small community. Selection is the first step in the process of showing you belong in the Regiment.
Trying to do so by blending in the background isn’t the way to do it. Be yourself, try to excel at everything, and remember, some of your fellow candidates may be better at some things than you are. That won’t change once you get to an operational unit.
”Do the best you can.” (Yes you’ll hear that again.)
Kim Jong Un didn’t like the art of President Trump’s deal, according to a recent AP story. The second meeting between the two powers in Vietnam was much less of a bromance than the first meeting, held in Singapore. While the Singapore Summit left many feeling optimistic about the chances of a nuke-free Korean Peninsula, the Hanoi Summit ended almost as abruptly as it began.
While North Korea’s early, unplanned exit from Hanoi didn’t rule out a third meeting between Trump and Kim, it left many wondering what happened behind the scenes to end the summit so quickly. Simply put, Kim wasn’t prepared for the Art of the Deal.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi.
Although the summit lasted for nearly the expected time, talks broke down before the summit’s working lunch and a planned “signing ceremony.” President Trump told reporters that Kim’s demand for an immediate end to all sanctions against North Korea was cause enough for the President to walk away. Trump whose reputation is built on his ability to negotiate, even writing a number of books on dealmaking.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump said during a news conference after the summit. “This was just one of those times.” Insiders told the AP the President implored Kim to “go all in,” referring to the complete dismantling of nuclear development sites not just the disputed one at Yongbyon. For his part, Kim wanted the President to go all in, demanding an end to the sanctions.
Trump wasn’t willing to go that far. But there was more to the decision to end the talks there than just this current impasse.
The Art of No Deal, by Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un just didn’t like the “unreasonable demands” Trump made of him, despite a close, personal relationship with the President, one Trump himself affirmed to Western media. So this snafu in Hanoi doesn’t mean the negotiations are over forever. Neither side has ruled out a third summit between them.
“We of course place importance on resolving problems through dialogue and negotiations. But the U.S. style dialogue of unilaterally pushing its demands doesn’t fit us, and we have no interest in it,” Kim said during a speech to North Korea’s parliamentary body. The dictator went on to demand reasonable terms for a real agreement and to have them from the United States by the end of 2019.
Those terms include a withdrawal of the “hostile policies” the United States has imposed on North Korea’s economy, government, and its individual officials. North Korea has time and again implored South Korea to move away from Washington’s aggressive policies toward the North and deal with Pyongyang more unilaterally. In the interim, Kim has resisted complete disarmament, opting instead to join vague declarations of arms control efforts amid cooperation with the South.
“If the United States approaches us with the right manner and offers to hold a third North Korea-U.S. leaders’ summit on the condition of finding solutions we could mutually accept, then we do have a willingness to give it one more try,” Kim said.
The United States started to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said.
Spokesman Eric Pahon said the May 31 weapons delivery to the Syrian Kurds included small arms and ammunition. It marks the beginning of a campaign to better equip Kurdish allies that the U.S.-led coalition believes are the best fighting force against the Islamic State, even though arming them has infuriated NATO ally Turkey.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. The U.S. has promised to mete out the equipment incrementally, based on the mission, to ensure weapons aren’t used by Kurdish groups in Turkey.
On May 30, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria closed within about 2 miles (three kilometers) of Raqqa, where they expect to face a long and deadly battle. Roadside bombs and other explosive devices are believed to be planted along their routes and inside the city.
U.S. officials have said the weapons deliveries will include heavy machine guns, ammunition, 120mm mortars, armored vehicles and possibly TOW anti-tank missiles. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
Separately May 30, the Pentagon ratcheted up threats against pro-Syrian government forces patrolling an area near the Jordanian border where the U.S.-led coalition is training allied rebels. Officials described the pro-government forces as Iranian-backed.
The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the forces to leave the area and American military officials said the same message was conveyed in recent calls with Russian commanders. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the leaflets told the pro-government forces to leave the established protected zone, which is about 55 kilometers around an area where U.S. and coalition forces have been operating.
Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. bombed Iranian-backed troops who were in that same area of Syria and didn’t heed similar warnings to leave.
According to Syrian and U.S. officials, the bombing killed several soldiers and destroyed vehicles and other weapons and equipment.
Davis said the U.S. has seen the militias operating in the desert around Tanf. The area has been considered a “deconflicted” zone under a U.S.-Russian understanding.
“Hundreds” of pro-government forces are in the region, Davis said, but he was unsure how many are actually inside the zone.
Pentagon officials said they were not certain if those troops are Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah or from other militias fighting on Assad’s behalf. At the Tanf military camp near the Jordanian border, U.S. special operations forces have been working with a Syrian opposition group in operations against IS.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
The Polish government has introduced a new app that will require coronavirus patients to take selfies to prove they’re quarantining properly.
Per France 24, the “Home Quarantine” app is intended for people quarantining for 14 days after returning from abroad.
People who’ve downloaded the app register a selfie with the app, then periodically receive requests for geo-located selfies. If they fail to comply, the police will be alerted.
“People in quarantine have a choice: either receive unexpected visits from the police, or download this app,” a spokesman for Poland’s Digital Ministry told the AFP. If a user fails to respond to a request within 20 minutes police will be notified.
France 24 reported that police in Poland fined someone for breaking quarantine 500 zloty (6) on Friday.
British journalist Jakub Krupa tweeted that accounts are being automatically created for suspected quarantine patients.
Krupa tweeted that the purpose of the app isn’t solely to punish people breaking quarantine, saying it also “helps to connect with the social services or request help with urgent supplies.”
The Navy’s top officer strongly advocated robust “engagement” with China to reduce the growing tensions generated by Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, while minimizing the effectiveness of the Asian giant’s highly touted anti-access, area-denial defense capabilities against U.S. naval forces.
During a Sept. 12 appearance at the Center for a New American Security n Washington, D.C., the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson also favorably compared the conduct of People’s Liberation Army – Navy ships during at-sea encounters to the threatening actions by fast-attack craft operated by Iran’s militant Revolutionary Guard in the congested Persian Gulf. And he said US commanders have the freedom to respond to those acts.
In a classic understatement, Richardson described U.S. relations with China as “complicated,” and said “we have to structure our relations with our counterparts, the Peoples Liberation Army – Navy along those lines. First and foremost, we’ve got to continue to engage. I’m an advocate for engagement, thoughtful engagement.”
Noting that “there are areas where we have common interests,” he suggested aligning US efforts to support those common interests.
He suggested that one of those “common interest” was freedom of navigation that would allow all nations to use the maritime domain for commercial reasons, despite the fact that China’s aggressive claims to virtually all of the South China Sea and parts of the East China Sea far from its territorial limits would deny others access to those vital waterways.
Richardson acknowledged that during his recent visit with the head of the Chinese navy, he was “very honest and very frank in terms of those things that would be helpful in moving the relationship forward in mutually beneficial ways and those behaviors that would be completely not helpful in terms of moving that relationship down the road.” That was an effort, he said, toward “minimizing the uncertainty, the miscalculations, by asserting in advance these things that would be very good, those that would be troublesome.”
But the Navy chief insisted that any regional arrangement for security in the Asia-Pacific region had to include China.
Asked about the A2AD capabilities China is developing to keep U.S. forces out of its claim zone of control, Richardson said that was “sort of an aspiration rather than any kind of strategy.”
While acknowledging the technological advances that allow detection and precision targeting at greater distances, “there is a whole sequence of events that have to happen in perfect symphony to execute that mission. There are many ways to deconstruct that chain of events,” he said.
In response to a question about what authority US commanders had to respond to the rash of threatening actions by the Iranian small craft, Richardson said, “there’s really nothing that limits the way they can respond.”
He noted that in those “super dynamic situations,” the commanders must make decisions “in very short periods of time. We try to make sure our commanders have the situational awareness and the capabilities and the rules of engagement that they remain in command of the situation.”
He called that a “a great demonstration of something I advocate for, the need to continue to develop a sort of decentralized approach toward operations. These sort of things happen on a time scale that really doesn’t allow commanders to sort of phone home for permission and then respond.”
“They have to know what their commanders expect, have to be given the freedom to act, to take advantage of opportunities, but also so they can respond to these very quick acting opportunities.”
“Is our Navy prepared to respond? The answer is yes in every respect,” he said.
Richardson said the actions by the Iranian Guard vessels were unlike the meetings with Chinese warships, which under an agreement on encounters at sea, “the vast majority of encounters with the Chinese have been peaceful.”
And, he added, it would be useful to have a similar agreement with Russia to prevent the recent close encounters with Russian ships and aircraft in the Black Sea.
“No one left behind” is an often-heard mantra in military units. Popularized by feats like the ‘Black Hawk Down’ operation, it enhances esprit de corps in a unit. It also emboldens warriors to perhaps go a step further during combat, assured that they wouldn’t be left alone in case things turn sour. But how far would a unit go to recover one of its own?
Helmand Province, Afghanistan, January 15, 2007.
Royal Marines Commandos from Z Company of 45 Commando launch an assault on a Taliban fort. The 200 Commandos enjoy armor and 155mm artillery support. Overhead, U.S. B-1 bombers and British Apache Longbow AH-64 helicopters provide a silent assurance with their potent arsenal and infrared cameras.
The Jugroom Fort, a strategically vital position in Garmsir, Southern Helmand, overlooks the Helmand River. Today, it’s packed with Taliban fighters.
The Marines ford the river in their Viking APCs and assault the fortified structure. Heavy combat ensues. Despite their overwhelming firepower, the Commandos are forced to withdraw. Once back in their launching position, a muster goes around, and a grim discovery is made: Lance Corporal Mathew Ford is missing.
Using its infrared camera, one of the AH-64 Apaches spots a lone figure pulsing with a weak heat-signature tucked away in a corner of the Fort. The Taliban all around seem impervious to its existence—but for how long?
A rescue operation must be shift before the insurgents realize what’s going on.
The Commando officers argue for a ground rescue operation, but the higher-ups back in Camp Bastion waiver fearing more casualties. Meanwhile, LCpl. Ford’s brothers-in-arms fume. They decide to take the situation into their own hands. Alongside some of the Apache pilots, they devise a bold rescue plan. Four Commandos strap themselves to the wings of two of the Apaches. A third chopper will follow and try to suppress any Taliban.
The Army Air Corps’ pilots fly their Apaches just 20ft above the ground, at 60mph.
The British Commandos land within the Fort’s walls. The Commandos jump from the wings and begin searching for the missing comrade. A few of the pilots join them armed with their personal sidearms.
They find LCpl. Ford—he is unconscious.
Recovering their fallen comrade, they re-mount the choppers and safely fly back to their positions.
It was later discovered that the 30-year-old Ford was dead when the rescue force arrived. But the grimmest discovery came in the autopsy. Ford had been zipped by friendly-fire. It later became known that one of his buddies mistook a hand-grenade flash close to Ford’s position for gunfire and shot him.
Despite rumors of a court-martial for their actions, the whole rescue team was honored. Two of the Apache pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the highest military awards. The rest of the pilots alongside the four Commandos received the Military Cross.
So, if you find yourself alongside Royal Marines Commandos or any British Apache pilots, you can rest assured that they won’t leave you behind.