The Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) implemented a new change to its capstone exercise, Red Leg War, giving students a more realistic experience before entering their respective units.
This change now allows students to approach the impact zone while calling in fires during the Fires Support Coordination Exercise.
“We want them to have the experience of fires impacting much closer than they have in the past,” said Lt. Col. Terry Hilt, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery commander. “They will now be able to potentially walk through the craters as they move from objective to objective.
Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course students conduct a walk-through of the impact zone during a fire support coordination exercise (FSCX) Jan. 17, 2019, at Fort Sill.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
“We have a safety on Dailey Hill counting rounds as the lane [of soldiers] advances,” he said. “We also have an EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team out there.”
If a round doesn’t explode and it’s in the path of the soldiers, then the lane is stopped and the EOD team takes care of the unexploded ordnance, Hilt said.
2nd Lt. Anderson Simmons approaches the impact area Jan. 17. He and his classmates graduated Jan. 23, 2019, to become the Army’s newest field artillery officers.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
In the past, after planning, briefing and rehearsing, students had been brought to an observation point where they would call in fires on designated targets.
Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course students do a quick huddle as they approach the impact zone Jan. 17, 2019.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
Now, students get to fully realize the effects of that planning by getting as close as 750 meters from impacting rounds, while simultaneously calling in fire from mobile positions.
This also allows students to more realistically adapt their fire commands while moving to contact, and exposes them to the devastating effects of those artillery rounds, Hilt said.
“For years and years and years people just thought truck driving was driving a truck,” said Sammy Seay, a US Army veteran who helped build the Ace of Spades gun truck. “Well normally it is. Not in Vietnam.”
On Sept. 2, 1967, 37 cargo trucks from the 8th Transportation Group carried aviation fuel on a supply run from Pleiku through “Ambush Alley” to reach An Khe. While en route, the lead vehicle was disabled and the rest were trapped in the kill zone. The Viet Cong staged a coordinated ambush with land mines, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and AK-47 rifle fire. The unprepared and largely unarmed force was quickly overwhelmed. In a span of not more than 10 minutes, 31 vehicles were disabled or destroyed and seven American truck drivers were killed.
Truck drivers in Vietnam realized if they were going to return home alive, they needed to upgrade their firepower. The soldiers of the 8th Transport Group who drove in vehicle convoys took readily available deuce-and-a-half cargo trucks and added twin M60 machine guns to create makeshift gun trucks. The back where the troops were typically transported got a gun box, and others carried M79 grenade launchers and M16 rifles.
“The transportation companies became rolling combat units because they ran through the combat zone every day,” Seay said.
Formerly green cargo trucks were painted black for intimidation and given names painted in big, bold letters on the side. The names were inspired by the pop culture of the time: Canned Heat. The Misfits. King Cobra. The Untouchables. Snoopy. Hallucination. The Piece Maker.
The dirt and paved roads they traveled on were filled with potholes and land mines. Early on, the two-and-a-half-ton cargo trucks had mechanical problems, and within a handful of months they switched to using five-ton trucks. The wooden two-by-fours and sandbags that had initially protected the gunners from incoming bullets and shrapnel were replaced with steel-plated armor.
“There wasn’t a gun truck in Vietnam that was authorized by the Army,” said Stephen M. Peters, who provided convoy and nighttime security on the gun truck called Brutus during a tour in 1969. “But all of the brass knew we had them.”
The gun truckers were resourceful, scrounging for spare parts, materials, and weapons. The majority of their upgrades came from the Air Force and other service members in Vietnam, looking out for fellow Americans in need. “If a VC was hiding behind a tree and we had an M60, we could pepper the tree and hope he’d step out sooner or later and hit him,” Roger Blink, the driver of the gun truck Brutus, told the Smithsonian Channel. “With a M2 .50-caliber machine gun we simply cut the tree down.”
The M60s and the M2 Browning machine guns were certainly an asset, because without them, the convoys wouldn’t stand a chance. The real game changer came in form of their acquisition through back-end deals of the M134 minigun. The Piece Maker gun truck crew salvaged a minigun from aviation maintenance along with several boxes of ammo; Brutus’ crew stole a minigun off one of the Hueys on an airbase.
The dust, the monsoons, and the firefights were relentless. On Feb. 23, 1971, a convoy with three gun trucks was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in An Khe. “On the way in, an NVA jumped up in a ditch and fired a B40 rocket right at me,” recalled Walter Deeks, who was driving the Playboys gun truck. “It looked about the size of a softball, and it was just a flame you could hear crackling, like a rocket.”
A tank, helicopters, and other gun trucks responded as quick-reaction forces in support.
Specialist 4th Class Larry Dahl, assigned to the 359th Transportation Company, was a gunner on Brutus. Dahl let loose his minigun on several NVA positions, then there was silence. Dahl and another member of the crew worked to get the minigun back into the action. The gunfight raged on until an enemy hand grenade was tossed in the back and plopped into the gun box where Dahl was standing. He made a split-second decision and hurled his body on top of the grenade before warning his teammates of the danger. He sacrificed his life for his fellow gun truckers and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
“Every crew was proud of their truck,” said Deeks. “And you loved those guys like brothers. It was a very close camaraderie.”
“To you all from us all for having the guts to try.”
These were the words written on the cases of beer waiting for American special operations troops in Oman on Apr. 25, 1980. They were gifted to the U.S. service members by British civilians working at the airfield.
The British didn’t know for sure who the American troops were, but what they did know came from news reports in Iran and the United States that a group of Army Delta Force troops, United States Marines, and Air Force aircrews flew out of their base to an unknown destination and returned many hours later.
British airfield operators also knew that not everyone had come back.
By the time President Jimmy Carter gave Operation Eagle Claw the green light, hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been held for 174 days. The operational ground force commander was also the legendary founder of Delta Force, Col. Charlie Beckwith – and no one was more eager to get going.
A new documentary from Filmmaker Barbara Koppel, “Desert One,” explores the leadup and fallout of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. military’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages. It also details every angle of the event from people who were on the ground, with interviews from those who were there.
The interviewees include veteran member of the Eagle Claw mission and their families, Iranians who were holding Americans hostage at the embassy, a handful of the hostages, an Iranian who was part of a group of locals who came upon the landing site in the middle of the night, and even remarks from President Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale.
Carter, dedicated to achieving the release of the hostages through diplomatic means, still charged Beckwith with creating a hostage rescue plan. Carter exhausted every channel before giving Beckwith the go-ahead, but Beckwith was ready.
The plan was an incredibly complex one, and with so many moving parts, many felt then that it had little chance for success – a statement even many of the Deltas agreed with.
Coming into a remorse desert location near Tehran, called “Desert One” 3 U.S. Air Force C-130s would deliver 93 Delta force operators destined for the Embassy, 13 Special Forces troops to retrieve hostages from the foreign affairs ministry building, a U.S. Army ranger team, and a handful of Farsi-speaking truck drivers. “Desert One” would be the staging area for the planes and refueling bladders, guarded by an airfield protection team.
Eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters from the USS Nimitz would be dispatched to Desert One to refuel and take soldiers to another desert site, “Desert Two” where they would hide until nightfall. CIA operatives would take trucks to Desert Two and drive soldiers to Tehran. There, the rangers would capture an abandoned air base outside of the city as a landing place for two C-141 Starlifter aircraft.
During the assault, the helicopters would fly from Desert Two to a soccer stadium near the embassy in Tehran to kill the guards, pick up the hostages, and fly them to the Starlifters. The helicopters would be destroyed on the ground, and everyone would fly aboard the C-141s to Egypt.
The rescue mission never made it past Desert One. A number of unforeseen incidents, including Iranian citizens, an intense dust storm, and mechanical failures contributed to the failure of Eagle Claw. After a tragic accident at the airfield claimed eight lives and the mission lost the minimum number of helicopters needed, Carter ordered them to abort.
To this day, Carter accepts responsibility for the failure of the mission, as he did on Apr. 25, 1980, making a televised address to the American people.
President Jimmy Carter – Statement on Iran Rescue Mission
“I ordered this rescue mission prepared in order to safeguard American lives, to protect America’s national interests, and to reduce the tensions in the world that have been caused among many nations as this crisis has continued,” the president said. “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.”
When looking back on his time as President, whenever Carter is asked what he would do differently in his administration, his answer is always the same:
“I would send one more helicopter.”
When the Americans returned to Oman and the British civilians realized who they were and from where they’d just come, they rounded up any beer they could and left the now-famous note.
You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? That’s precisely what you should remember when you meet singer-songwriter, Brandon Mills.
The six-foot-tall dirty blonde haired blue-eyed Mills isn’t just another pretty face; behind those blue eyes, there is a bad ass who was once known as Sergeant Brandon Lanham, Marine Corps reconnaissance scout sniper.
He goes by Mills because, as he puts it, “Mills is my middle name, all my favorite singer songwriter’s names are 3 syllables, not sure why but I think there is a method to their madness.”
Mills joined the Marine Corps with his brother and they attended boot camp together and were later reunited in the Recon community.
Mills served his first tour in Afghanistan with Golf Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines out of Hawaii. After some continued motivation from his brother, he took the leap, passed the requirements and indoctrination process, and got to 1st Recon Battalion, with whom he would deploy to his second tour in Iraq.
All along the way, Mills was writing lyrics and honing his craft as a musician.
“I just wanted to travel and play music for everyone,” Mills said about his desire to perform.
“My youngest memory of recorded music is a Beach Boys greatest hits tape that I spent my lawn mowing money on,” reflects Mills as he explains his earliest passion for music that has stuck with him since playing the saxophone in school.
The love of music and the desire to create it has been a lifelong aspiration for Mills even before he joined, so it would make sense that he leave the Marine Corps and become a musician. Right?
Even after all his success and accolades in the Corps, Mills was not ready to aimlessly jump straight into the music scene when he left the Marines. He admits he was nervous — even scared — to chase the dream without a safety net, so he did what many Veterans do: he became a contractor.
Eventually, the bug bit harder and he found it impossible to not take the risk and pursue his true first love.
Now managing his own gigs, website, and social media, Mills has made his transition from Marine to musician rather successfully.
He has played shows all over the country, supporting non-profits like Intersections International, Force Blue, and Society of Artistic Veterans. He has recorded several tracks and even shot a few music videos of himself performing.
Recently Mills finished a residency at Umami burger in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “That was just me hustling, literally going from business to business asking, do you guys do live music? If not, why? If you do, how do I get involved?”
That’s the work ethic and resolve all warriors take to their tasks.
(Brandon Mills | YouTube)It might go without saying that the persistence, determination, and even stubbornness are strong character traits in most, if not all, of our elite warriors.
You don’t make it into our military’s special units without being resilient, steadfast, and dedicated — Mills without a doubt carries those same values and characteristics into his music career.
I asked Mills if the transition was hard, going from stone cold warrior to writing and performing love songs. I wondered if there was any identity crisis there and how he dealt with it.
He explained that it was difficult dealing with other ideas of masculinity and letting that warrior machismo block his flow, but he has learned to temper those instincts and allow himself to feel the positive vibes and let his creativity through, not worrying about what others think and only focusing on great storytelling through song.
I don’t think Brandon would mind the comparison of his sound being somewhere between John Mayer in his vocal delivery and Jack Johnson in his light-hearted muted acoustic. Mills’ vocals have that bluesy, gravely register that urges the listener to lean in and feel the lyrics, while his guitar style is playful and rhythmic like a campfire sing-a-long.
Mills isn’t commercially successful yet, or famous for that matter; however, he understands that it’s a long road in the music industry, requiring a ton of work — but he feels he has all that in him.
He wants to help veterans tell their stories through music and let them know that it’s okay to express themselves through art, using himself as an example. Brandon’s music is all about spreading positivity, uplifting spirits, and connecting people with passion.
“I hope that I can give some people what they need,” Mills said, when discussing his forthcoming album. “I’m so critical of myself, I know what I want — if it’s not good enough I will do it again.”
It’s relentless drive and focus like this that will push Mills into the spotlight, eventually.
The strength, tenacity, and perseverance saturated in his warrior spirit will undoubtedly meld with his passion and creativity to help Brandon Mills become a renowned singer-songwriter for years to come.
Through the use of insults, strict discipline, sleep deprivation, and controlled explosions, Army drill sergeants turn recent high school grads and civilians looking for a new job into trained soldiers ready to serve in America’s wars. This transition is, of course, painful — by design.
Here are 11 things trainees will complain about before learning to suck it up as an Army soldier:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
New U.S. Army soldiers are expected to operate on little sleep. While in the barracks, recruits’ sleep is regularly interrupted by drill sergeants conducting inspections, punishing infractions, getting head counts, or waking soldiers for the heck of it. The party continues in the field where soldiers sleep in bags instead of beds.
“This food is terrible.”
Military food is rarely praised, and basic training food is even worse. Eating periods are very short and are supervised by drill sergeants who pounce onto soldiers who reach for fattening or sugary foods.
“You mean I have to pay for this terrible haircut?”
Soldiers get their heads buzzed, run in tennis shoes, and shave every day — but what most people don’t know is the trainees foot these bills. The shoes, haircuts, toothpaste, and other gear and services are all paid for by the trainees through Eagle Cash cards, a sort of military prepaid debit card. Most of these costs are defrayed by a uniform allowance that soldiers receive once a year, but the surprise bills still create complaints.
“There’s ugly, then there’s Army Ugly. We are all Army Ugly.”
No matter how handsome you are, it’s hard to rock the haircuts, glasses, and tan lines the Army gives you. Males have to have their heads buzzed. All soldiers requiring corrective lenses are issued basic training glasses, generally referred to as “birth control glasses.” And, after months in the sun in physical training uniforms, combat uniforms, and berets, graduating soldiers have deep tan lines around their wrists and across their foreheads.
“They yell at us all day, and one keeps calling us crack pipes.”
It doesn’t matter who the recruit is, even if they’re famous or the child of a general, they’re getting yelled at in basic training. (Stephen Colbert didn’t even enlist and he caught the sharp edge of the drill sergeants.) Many recruits find themselves shocked at the sheer amount of verbal abuse as well as the language used. The language might be toned down, but the volume never will be.
“Why do we have to take the mask off? Isn’t the point to learn how to use the mask?”
Though they will brag about these experiences later, all recruits have a training event they’re dreading during basic. Maybe it’s the CS gas chamber where they’re forced to remove their gas masks and breath deeply. Some complain about the night infiltration course where they must crawl across the ground while machine guns are fired over their heads and artillery simulators are thrown nearby. Most complain about the “smokings,” physical training sessions spread throughout the day to help new soldiers quickly build strength and endurance.
“Even on overnight guard, I can’t be alone.”
They march as a group, eat as a group, sleep as a group, shower as a group. They go to the bathroom in, at a minimum, two-man teams. Recruits have no privacy for the nine weeks or more of training. Soldiers who go through one station unit training, a combined basic training and job school mostly used for combat soldiers, will endure this for even longer. This can be a source of a lot of complaints, especially if a soldier is paired with another recruit they don’t like.
“Oh, that guy’s a blue falcon. We couldn’t stand him.”
The other recruits, especially the “blue falcons,” soldiers who screw over their peers by tattling or just being a moron, can be a major source of stress for new soldiers. When one basic trainee screws up, that means the whole platoon or whole company is screwed up, and everyone suffers equally. Bad hospital corners on one bed? Grab some real estate, soldier; you’re doing pushups until sweat fogs the windows. Adding to the atmosphere is that, after the punishments, all the trainees are still stuck in the same bay together, still sleeping four feet away from each other, still crapping in battle buddy pairs. And they remember which ones ratted them out.
“We can’t walk on that grass. That grass is only for the drill sergeant.”
Recruits are issued a handbook with pages and pages of arbitrary rules during reception week, before they even make it to basic training — rules like, “All towels must be folded in thirds, not halves, and the open sides must face towards the south side of the building.”
“We had to run everywhere, even when we were early.”
Soldiers are ordered to sprint between training stations, even if they can see the long line from a hundred feet away. Trainees run to the back of the line, then wait until the line moves. The experience and frustration defines “Hurry up and wait” — a military maxim.
“I wore pants with buttons for so long, zipping my jeans felt weird.”
For nine or more weeks, they’ve worn only what they were told to wear, only sat in chairs if given express permission, ate what they were given when they were given it. After graduation, they find take out menus and weigh the merits of thai versus pizza for dinner. They debate whether to watch a DVD or play a football game after the training day ends. They get their cell phones back and wonder whether they should call their mother or their girlfriend first. (They generally call their significant other first. Sorry, mom.)
Just as the cyber threat has continued to evolve and grow, so too have the National Guard’s cyber teams and cyber capabilities, said Guard officials during a cyber roundtable discussion at the Pentagon.
“The cyber domain is constantly changing and it’s very dynamic,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Burkett, the vice director of domestic operations with the National Guard Bureau.
That changing cyber domain also means looking differently at where cyber operators come from within the ranks.
“We tend to be very linear in our thinking sometimes,” said Air Force Col. Jori Robinson, vice commander of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing and former commander of a cyber operations squadron and group. “You have to have a computer science degree, you have to come from a computer background and that is what makes a good cyber operator.”
Turns out, said Robinson, some of the best cyber operations specialists may come from the aircraft maintenance field.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Smith, a cyber systems operations technician with the 52nd Combat Communications Squadron, uncoils cable for a radio frequencies kit.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Wright)
An Air Force study, she said, looked into elements that make an individual have the capacity to understand cyber networks, even if the specific computer network abilities aren’t there.
“That person over in maintenance who has been turning wrenches on a jet for the past 15 years, has the capacity and innate ability to understand networks and get a better idea, and they are turning out to make some of the most prolific and fantastic operators we have,” said Robinson.
For some Air Guard units, that comes as a benefit as missions shift and equipment changes. When the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing transitioned from flying the C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft to the smaller C-17 Globemaster III, that left many maintainers in limbo.
“C-17s don’t require as many maintainers as C-5s, so there was a net loss of people of force structure,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Jody W. Ogle, the director of communications and cyber programs with the West Virginia National Guard.
Using workforce development grants, many of those maintainers attended civilian education courses to retrain into the Guard’s cyber force.
“It was met with great success,” said Ogle, adding that about 50 maintainers made the switch.
Robinson echoed his sentiments.
“We’ve taken some of our maintainers and turned them into cyber operators and they are just crushing all of these classes and they are among the most sought-after folks by Cyber Command to come sit in on these teams,” she said.
Having another potential avenue to pull from is important, said Robinson, as the Maryland National Guard has a large concentration of cyber capability.
A C-17 Globemaster III.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)
“It’s a very robust mission set in the state,” she said. “We run full spectrum operations for Cyber Command and 24th Air Force as well as on the Army side.”
That capability means filling a variety of roles.
“In the National Guard our core missions are one, fight America’s wars, two, secure the homeland and, three, build partnerships,” Burkett said. “We support the warfight by building fully integrated National Guard cyber units into operational federal missions. [We] protect the homeland by providing highly-trained cyber forces available to support mission-partner requirements.”
Those mission-partner requirements often focus on working with state and local agencies to assess and identify potential security risks in their networks.
“We provide vulnerability assessments, we’ll do some mission assurance, predominantly with the government agencies,” said Robinson, adding that Maryland Guard cyber units assisted the Maryland Board of Elections during recent elections in the state.
“We were called in pretty early with the Maryland Board of Elections just to have a conversation,” she said. “We provided a lot of lead up information, a lot of policy review and should they have needed it we were available going into the elections to do more over-the-shoulder monitoring [for potential cyber threats] for them.”
Robinson stressed, the cyber teams were strictly hands-off when it came to using computer hardware.
“We were very clear from the beginning that we were not going to be hands-on-keyboard,” she said. “The Board of Elections felt they had a strong handle on what was happening on the networks on Election Day.”
The Maryland Guard cyber units were able to easily integrate because of partnerships built between the Guard and those local agencies, stated Robinson.
Those partnerships are important.
“We learn a lot from our partners,” said Burkett. “We don’t necessarily have all the answers.”
For the Maryland Guard cyber units, one of the most beneficial partnerships has been an international one.
Since 1993 the Maryland Guard has been partnered with Estonia as part of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. Since 2007, that partnership has included a strong cyber component, said Robinson.
That year saw Estonia suffered a massive hack to its computer infrastructure.
“What Estonia brings to the United States is quite fascinating because of the hack that happened in 2007, what it did to their critical infrastructure and their ability and how Estonia responded following that,” said Robinson.
The result was a total redo of network systems.
“They completely revamped their network system and how they do all online transactions,” said Robinson. “It’s a fascinating study in how you can add additional layers of encryption, additional layers of protection to everything that is online.”
It makes for a unique system, Robinson said.
“We’re learning a lot from them from that perspective,” she said, adding that cyber operations have been integrated into training exercises conducted with Estonian forces, including a large-scale training exercise in 2017 that incorporated both flying and cyber missions.
“We created an exercise where a massive attack, a piece of malware, had found its way on to the Estonian air base,” Robinson said, referring to the cyber portion of the exercise. From there, the exercise simulated the malware getting onto the computers used for maintenance of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft that were used for the flying portion of the exercise.
The cyber operators had to respond quickly, said Robinson, just as if it were a real-world attack. And, it was both Estonian and Maryland Guard cyber elements responding.
“We worked side by side,” she said. “It was a fantastic exercise that we’re looking at expanding in 2020.”
Those exercises, and partnerships, only expand the Guard’s cyber capabilities, said Burkett.
“Learning and building those relationship and partnerships is what the National Guard does naturally,” he said, adding that’s critical as the cyber threat continues to evolve.
“There is nothing that cannot be hacked,” he said. “We are dependent upon our cyber infrastructure for critical systems to support our way of life. As long as we are dependent upon those systems, we are going to have to defend them.”
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded and occupied neighboring Kuwait in a move which brought swift condemnation from much of the rest of the world. In response, U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered planes, ships, and troops brought in to Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible to help mount a defense against possible Iraqi aggression. As Iraqi troops massed at the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, Operation Desert Shield began in full force, as the Coalition forces grew to 48 nations.
The United States isn’t known for its passivity when it comes to aggression against its interests, however. The U.S. was actively planning a response to the Iraqi invasion and a subsequent liberation of Kuwait, which happened between January and February 1991 in what became known as Operation Desert Storm.
We pretty much sent everyone. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Jackson)
During the military build-up, planners wanted to fool Saddam into thinking the Coalition forces would invade Kuwait near the “boot heel” of the country, while planning to really hit the Iraqi occupation forces with a “left hook” strategy. The centerpiece of this deception effort was at Forward Operating Base Weasel, an effort unlike anything since Operation Fortitude during WWII, the misinformation campaign designed to cover the real location for the D-Day invasions.
FOB Weasel was what Rick Atkinson, author of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War called “a Potemkin base… giving the impression of 130,000 troops across a hundred square kilometers.” Army truck drivers wearing the red berets of paratroopers would shuttle vehicles between FOB Weasel and logistic bases.
The U.S. army’s XVIII Airborne Corps established FOB Weasel near the phony invasion area. They set up a network of small, fake camps with a few dozen soldiers using radios operated by computers to create radio traffic, fake messages between fake headquarters, as well as smoke generators and loudspeakers blasting fake Humvee, tank, and truck noises to simulate movement. Inflatable tanks with PVC turrets and helicopters with fiberglass rotors were lined up on the ground as well. Inflatable fuel bladders, Camo netting, and heat strips to fool infrared cameras completed the illusion. The Americans even taped “Egyptian” radio traffic messages about the supposed American presence to be intercepted by the Iraqis.
As late as February 21st, Iraqi intelligence still thought the Americans were near the Kuwaiti boot heel, well after the Iraqis were expelled from Kuwait.
Over the last five years, some 4,200 living veterans were declared dead and had their benefits cut off by the Department of Veterans Affairs. After digging through records, Danny Pummill, the acting undersecretary for benefits at the VA, said the mistake was a function of the way record sharing is done between the Social Security Administration and the VA. When the SSA declared someone dead, the VA would immediately kill their benefits.
Florida Congressman David Jolly had a bone to pick with the VA. Responding to his constituents’ complaints about premature death notices, he headed a Congressional inquiry in 2015. When veterans tried to correct the errors in their mortal status, they found themselves in purgatory between the two agencies. In a written statement, Rep. Jolly remarked on the grave consequences of these kinds of mistakes.
“We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead,” Jolly wrote. “It has caused needless hardships for thousands of people who had their benefits terminated and their world turned upside down.”
The VA admitted its mistake to the congressman and then revived the affected veterans’ benefits as of May 2016. The VA also overhauled its death notice procedures. Now, a veteran will be notified of his or her death by mail to the last known address. The veteran will have 30 days to prove he or she is not dead. If the VA doesn’t hear from the veteran or their surviving family members, the benefits will be terminated.
One of the most effective hand-to-hand combat techniques taught today — and one that has become closely identified with the Jewish state that embraced it — Krav Maga was a product of the Nazi-era streets of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia.
The martial art’s inventor, Imi Lichtenfeld was quite the athlete. Born in Budapest in 1910, he spent his early years training to be a boxer, wrestler, and gymnast with his father. The elder Lichtenfeld was also a policeman who taught self-defense. Under his father’s tutelage, Imi won championships in all his athletic disciplines. But fighting in a ring required both people to follow certain rules. Street fights don’t have rules, Imi Lichtenfeld thought, and he wanted to be prepared for that.
At the end of the 1930s, anti-Semitic riots struck Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where Imi and his family were then living. Like many large cities in the region, the rise of National Socialism, or Nazism, created an anti-Jewish fervor that took young men to the streets to assault innocent and often unsuspecting Jews.
When the streets of his neighborhood became increasingly violent, Lichtenfeld decided to teach a group of his Jewish neighbors some self-defense moves. It came in the form of a technique that would help them protect themselves while attacking their opponent – a method that showed no mercy for those trying to kill the Chosen People.
Young Imi taught his friends what would later be called “Krav Maga.”
Translated as “contact-combat” in Hebrew, Krav Maga is designed to prepare the user for real-world situations. The martial art efficiently attacks an opponent’s most vulnerable areas to neutralize him as quickly as possible, uses everything in arm’s reach as a weapon, and teaches the user to be aware of every potential threat in the area. It developed into one of the most effective hand-to-hand techniques ever devised.
Krav Maga’s widespread use began in the Israel Defence Force, who still train in the martial art. These days, Krav Maga is a go-to fighting style widely used by various military and law enforcement agencies. In 1930s Europe, it was a godsend. Lichtenfeld’s technique taught Bratislava’s Jews how to simultaneously attack and defend themselves while delivering maximum pain and punishment on their attackers.
Imi Lichtenfeld escaped Europe in 1940 after the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia. He arrived in the British Mandate of Palestine in 1942 (after considerable struggles along the way) and was quickly inducted into the Free Czech Legion of the British Army in North Africa. He served admirably and the Haganah and Palmach – Jewish paramilitary organizations that were forerunners of what we call today the Israel Defence Forces – noticed his combat skill right away.
After Israel won its independence, Lichtenfeld gave his now-perfected martial art of Krav Maga to the IDF and became the Israeli Army’s chief hand-to-hand combat instructor. He even modified it for law enforcement and civilians.
Lichtenfeld taught Krav Maga until 1987 when he retired from the IDF. He died in 1998, after essentially teaching the world’s Jewish population how to defend themselves when no one would do it for them.
The U.S. Marines put supermodel Kate Upton through her paces on Aug. 22 during a workout in Detroit to promote the upcoming Marine Week celebration in the city.
Upton struggled a bit at the end, but was able to complete the training routine that involved a series of aerobic exercises and running as her fiance, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, watched from afar. Upton joined several other Tigers players’ wives and significant others in the session at Wayne State University’s athletic complex that was led by Gunnery Sgt. Sara Pacheco, a Marine Corps fitness instructor.
“It was (a) very hard workout,” Upton said following the exercise session, which she concluded by collapsing to the grass in an exhausted embrace with a fellow workout warrior. “I knew it was going to be hard. The Marines are very tough.”
Verlander, a former American League most valuable player and winner of the Cy Young award as the league’s top pitcher, said afterward that he was proud of Upton for her efforts.
“I think it’s easy to show your support with words. I think going out there and doing that workout I think really shows how much she supports (the military),” Verlander said. He is the founder of the Wins for Warriors charity that supports military service members and their families.
Upton, a world-famous model who has appeared three times on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, was on hand to promote Marine Week, which runs Sept. 6-10, and is designed to provide the public with a better understanding of the Corps and its mission and the chance to connect with hundreds of Marines.
A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber made an emergency landing on Oct. 23, 2018, at the Colorado Springs Airport following an unspecified inflight incident.
A number of local photographers have posted photos of the aircraft sitting on the tarmac at the joint use civilian/military airport located about 12 miles from downtown Colorado Springs.
An Air Force statement from Brig. Gen. John J. Nichols, 509th Bomb Wing commander, read, “Our aviators are extremely skilled; they’re trained to handle a wide variety of in-flight emergencies in one of the world’s most advanced aircraft and they perfectly demonstrated that today.”
Numerous media outlets and local news reports have said the two crew memberson board the aircraft were not injured in the incident.
The incident is unusual since there are only 18 known B-2s currently in operation with one additional aircraft allocated for dedicated testing purposes (and one crashed 10 years ago). The 18 operational aircraft are flown by the historic U.S. Air Force 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
The unit is descended from the 509th Composite Group, the only aviation unit in the world to operationally employ nuclear weapons in combat using B-29 Superfortresses during the 1945 airstrikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., flies overhead after returning from a local training mission at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Jan. 12, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith)
The 509th Bomb Wing and its Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit are critical U.S. strategic strike assets. The loss of one aircraft, even if temporary, reduces the global precision low-observable strike capability by 5.5%. Because the aircraft have previously initiated ultra-long range strikes directly from their home base at Whiteman AFB, this reduction in capability is noteworthy.
Social media posts on Facebook shared parts of what is claimed to be radio communications from local air traffic control facilities during the incident. In the recordings, the controller is heard saying, “There is another issue with the aircraft coming in, they are unable to change radio frequencies”. The same tape also says the local fire department at the airport was called.
The B-2 was initially directed to runway 17L but actually landed on runway 35R, a runway at 6,134 feet of elevation that is 13,500 feet long, the longest runway available at Colorado Springs Airport.
B-2 Stealth Bomber emergency landing in Colorado Springs
The tower controller in the audio relays that, “I’m just relaying through Denver Center, all of the information, but as far as I now it is just the number 4 engine out”. Tower control finally says that he is unable to talk to the aircraft and is going to use a light gun to signal the aircraft, “But I am unable to talk to them. I’m just going to give them the light gun.” What appears to be an additional controller in the communications says, “No, they were unable to switch radio [frequencies] to me. I could only give them the light gun.”
Emergency response team on scene provided the pilot with oxygen, according to the reports but the reason for administering oxygen is unclear and subject to speculations.
On the other side, analysis of the (unusual) back shots of the aircraft: the U.S. Air Force usually prevents shorts at the rear of the aircraft.
“Photos taken of the B-2 on the ramp in Colorado show the aircraft’s auxiliary air inlet doors open on the left side and closed on the right. This is unusual. We don’t know if the right-side inlet doors were stuck closed during landing — they are open during terminal phases of flight — or if the left side failed to close upon shutting down,” Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone noticed.
As of Oct. 24, 2018, plane spotters in the area have since reported the B-2 is “gone”. The aircraft was not seen departing the airport so it is probable it has been moved discreetly to an indoor hangar.
On Feb. 26, 2010, a somehow similar incident occurred with a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber forward deployed in Guam. The aircraft aborted a takeoff with an engine fire. The official USAF spokesperson for the incident at the time, then- Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman, characterized the incident as “minor”. A subsequent report published on Jan. 6, 2014, in “War Is Boring” by writer David Axe went on to reveal the B-2 involved in that incident received more than minor damage. It took over two years to return the aircraft to operational flying condition.
Each of the B-2 spirit fleet aircraft has a name designated by state. In the case of the Feb. 26, 2010 incident, the aircraft involved was the “Spirit of Washington”, aircraft number 88-0332. The photos from Oct. 24, 2018’s incident may show aircraft number 89-0128, the “Spirit of Nebraska” being involved in Oct. 23, 2018’s emergency landing.
The future of the small and crucial B-2 fleet will certainly be influenced by the ability to maintain existing aircraft and repair any aircraft damaged in normal operations.
As the B-2 fleet continues to age and remain exposed to normal operational attrition the new, secretive B-21 Raider is expected to assume the low-observable strategic strike mission as it comes on line as early as 2025. Basing options for the B-21 Raider were announced earlier this year and could include Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri as “reasonable alternatives ” to base the new B-21 bomber. These facilities already host strategic bomber assets including the B-1B Lancer long-range, supersonic heavy bomber.
The B-1B is also expected to be phased out in conjunction with the introduction and operational integration of the B-21 Raider. The plans for the B-21 Raider fleet include significantly more aircraft than the operational B-2 Spirit program with some estimates suggesting as many as “100-200” B-21 Raiders could be built. The unit cost of the B-21 could be half the single aircraft cost of the B-2 partially because the B-21 Raider will share the Pratt Whitney F135 engine with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Once, when the United States went to war, that war was felt by everyone in the country. The wars’ effects seeped into every facet of American life. The primary reason for this was the draft. Selective service meant that anyone in America could be called up to serve and fight a war at any given time. This included movie stars, politicians, and even star athletes — some of whom never made it home.
Sports fans know the stories of baseball players Moe Berg (who served as an OSS agent during WWII) and Ted Williams (who was in the Navy and Marine Corps for WWII and the Korean War). Less well-known are those NFL players who fought for the United States. Football’s popularity only came about relatively recently, whereas baseball has long been “America’s Pastime.”
When Spring Training rolls around, we’ll remember the MLB players we’ve lost but, for now, let’s take some time during the NFL’s Salute to Service Month to remember those players who were also our brothers in the profession of arms. This is a list of those who died in combat; the list of the NFL’s veterans is much, much longer.
Keith Birlem, Washington Redskins (1943)
Birlem became an Army Air Forces officer during World War II after just one season in the league. After a bombing mission over Europe in 1943, the pilot attempted to land his damaged B-17 Bomber in England, but was killed in the resulting crash.
Mike Basca, Philadelphia Eagles (1941)
Basca enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The former Eagle was a tank commander with the 4th Armored Division. He was killed with the rest of his crew after an anti-tank round struck their vehicle in France in 1944.
Alex Ketzko, Detroit Lions (1944)
Ketzko was a son of Michigan, having played football for Michigan State and then later for the Detroit Lions. After the 1943 season, Ketzko enlisted in the U.S. Army. He eventually found himself in France, where he was killed in action in December, 1945, at just 25 years old.
Walter R. “Waddy” Young, Brooklyn Dodgers (1945)
Young was a big-time athlete out of Oklahoma. He started the Sooners off on their way to becoming a powerhouse sports team, bringing them to their first-ever Orange Bowl Game. After playing for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, they were a football team, too), he signed on to fly B-24 Liberators over Europe and B-29 Superfortresses over Japan during World War II. On Jan. 9, 1945, the legendary athlete was killed in a plane crash during a run over Tokyo.
Don Wemple, Brooklyn Dodgers (1944)
Wemple died on an Army Transport plane flying in the China-India-Burma theater of World War II. The onetime Brooklyn Dodger and Army officer was on his way to India in 1944.
Charlie Behan, Detroit Lions (1945)
After one season with the Lions, Behan decided to join the Marine Corps. He was hit in the mouth by shrapnel on Okinawa. Stuffing cotton into the wound to continue the fight, then-Lt. Behan led his troops up Sugar Loaf Hill and was killed guiding his Marines over the top. He was posthumously award the Navy Cross.
Al Blozis, New York Giants (1945)
The All-Pro tackle joined the Army in 1943, despite being much too tall to conform to standards. The 6’6″ literal giant broke the Army’s grenade throwing record before being shipped out to lead a platoon of troops in France in 1944. After two of his men were lost in the Vosges Mountains, he set out to find them by himself and was never heard from again.
Young Bussey, Chicago Bears (1945)
After the 1941 season, Bears QB Young Bussey left the NFL to join the war effort after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The young Bussey was killed during the invasion of the Philippines.
Edwin B. “King Kong” Kahn (1945)
Kahn spent three seasons in the NFL with the Redskins, staying with the team after they moved from Boston to Washington. He signed up for Army service as a First Lieutenant and was wounded in the invasion of Kawajalien. He died of wounds incurred in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines in February, 1945.
Howard “Smiley” Johnson, Green Bay Packers (1945)
Johnson traded his Packers green for Marine Corps greens after two seasons in Green Bay. The Marine officer was killed in action while leading Marines into battle on Iwo Jima.
Jack Lummus, New York Giants (1945)
The Giants’ Jack Lummus played only nine games in his NFL career before enlisting during the 1941 season. He eventually became an officer candidate and began training with the elite Marine Raiders. Lummus was one of the first Marines to land on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, and for two weeks directed artillery fire onto Japanese positions on Mount Suribachi. Lummus was wounded by shrapnel but managed to knock out three Japanese fortifications so his Marines could advance.
Lummus then lost both of his legs to a land mine and died at an aid station. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his outstanding display of battlefield skill and leadership.
Don Steinbrunner, Cleveland Browns (1967)
The Browns’ Offensive Tackle was just one of two NFL players who died during the Vietnam War. He played for Cleveland during the 1953 season where the Browns lost the championship to the Detroit Lions. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Steinbrunner was on a defoliation mission over Vietnam in 1967 when his C-123 Provider was shot down. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Bob Kalsu, Buffalo Bills (1970)
The All-American tackle was drafted in 1968 by the Buffalo Bills but went to the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC scholarship. To fulfill his obligations to the military, the Bills’ rookie of the year entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division, landing in South Vietnam in November of 1969. He was killed in the infamous attack on Fire Support Base Ripcord in 1970, just hours before his wife gave birth to their son back home.
Pat Tillman, Arizona Cardinals (2004)
Like many NFL players who enlisted in a time of national need, Tillman joined the military in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. By June 2002, he was a soldier and on his way to the Army Rangers. He would go on to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan before his death in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
The reverberations surrounding Tillman’s death has been felt by the NFL and its players, the veteran community, nonprofits, and even college football players – to this day – honor Tillman’s spirit and memory.
The deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger last month have raised questions about America’s role in the fight against violent extremism in a sparsely populated region of Africa.
Before the October attack, in which at least four Nigerien soldiers were also killed, some members of Congress said they were aware of U.S. operations in Niger, but others — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) — said they did not know U.S. troops were on the ground in Niger.
U.S. involvement includes more than 800 troops, according to Pentagon officials. There are also two drone bases in the country.
Niger and Burkina Faso want the U.S. to do more to support local governments in their fight against extremism, mainly by funding a new regional task force. The first-year operating budget for the five-nation force has been projected at $500 million. The United States is considering making a contribution of $60 million.
A decade of involvement
The heightened U.S. presence in the Sahel dates back to at least 2007, when the Pentagon established the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM. The command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, works with regional partners in Africa to strengthen security and stability. Since at least 2013, U.S. forces have conducted missions to train, advise, and assist in Niger, collaborating with local authorities to clamp down on armed extremists.
Niger has been a particularly important strategic partner in the region. During the Obama administration, the U.S. built drone bases in the capital, Niamey, and in the northern city of Agadez.
“Because the government of Niger has been a strong ally to the counterterrorism efforts, it’s been natural for the United States to station its counterterrorism forces in that country,” said Lisa Mueller, an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
But the Green Berets’ deaths have brought new scrutiny to U.S. partnerships in the Sahel, and it is unclear how — or if — the Trump administration might shift its policy in the region.
Some activists and U.S. lawmakers are concerned that some regional partners have authoritarian governments. Even Niger, said Brandon Kendhammer, an associate professor and director of the International Development Studies Program at Ohio University, is “problematically democratic.”
Still, Kendhammer characterized U.S. involvement as a net positive. “It’s pretty clear that these investments do make a real difference in the ability of the region to provide its own security,” he said.
Seeking input has been key to that success, according to Kendhammer. Despite perceptions among some observers that AFRICOM works unilaterally, the command has a track record of seeking local expertise and wide-ranging perspectives, Kendhammer said.
Green Beret deaths
Pentagon officials expect to complete their investigation into the Niger attack in January.
Based on what is now known, the U.S. soldiers killed last month were involved in exactly the kind of work that troops stationed in the Sahel undertake, Kendhammer said.
A big part of that role involves training local forces via workshops and fieldwork. Training can cover everything from basic operations to advanced tactics, including rapid response to terrorist attacks. To maximize their impact, the U.S. follows a “train the trainer” model, Kendhammer said, working with elite local forces who, in turn, share knowledge and skills.
No one has claimed responsibility for the October attack, but the Pentagon suspects possible involvement by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, one of several extremist organizations operating in the Sahel.
That presence typically involves local militants who pledge allegiance to an international organization like IS or al-Qaida. Such an affiliation might signal tenuous ties — occasional mention in an IS publication, for example — or ongoing communication with the broader network.
Either way, affiliating with an established terrorist organization can be more pragmatic than ideological. According to Kendhammer, the particular group alleged to be behind the Niger attack was previously affiliated with al-Qaeda and switched in 2015 or 2016 to find a better strategic partner.
The tactics employed by local militants hinge on undermining U.S. efforts. As VOA previously reported, it is likely that villagers in Tongo Tongo, where last month’s attack occurred, helped lure U.S. and Nigerien forces into a trap. The villagers’ willingness to assist militant groups reflects concerted efforts within those factions to build trust with local populations while fomenting contempt for America.
Daily Beast contributor Philip Obaji Jr. reported this month that residents of Tongo Tongo blamed the U.S. for a 2016 grenade attack that killed six children. No evidence has linked the U.S. to the incident, but local militant groups have pushed the narrative of an American-led slaughter to “win the hearts and minds of the local population,” Obaji wrote.
Governments in the Sahel say they need far more funding to carry out critical missions tied to two task forces: the newly-formed G5 counter-terrorism force and the Multinational Joint Task Force, a longstanding effort based in Chad that has been revitalized to fight Boko Haram.
Burkina Faso’s minister of foreign affairs, Alpha Barry, told VOA’s French to Africa service this month that the G5 force needs more help from the U.S., whose recent pledge will assist regional militaries but not the G5, according to Barry.
Despite its bases and troop deployments, U.S. investment in the Sahel, particularly in Mali and Niger, has so far been eclipsed, both financially and militarily, by the EU and France, Mueller said.
Concerns about lack of funding and efforts to demonize the U.S. may have a common solution: more local initiatives and buy-in. But bringing those solutions to fruition is easier said than done.
“In U.S. government discourse about West Africa, [we tend] to talk about the need for everything to be regionally oriented and for everything to be an African solution to an African problem. And those are good ideas in principle, but they don’t always translate directly into obvious policy,” Kendhammer said. “Not every regional initiative is going to be the right regional initiative. Not every local solution is going to be the local solution that’s actually going to solve the problem because countries have different interests.”
In the end, countries’ interests will dictate how well a solution works. In the Sahel, that’s complicated by a diverse host of local players, each with its own economic and security concerns.
For Niger, fighting extremism is less about combating a homegrown threat and more about securing its borders. “It might be tempting to look at Niger – a country that is approximately 99 percent Muslim in its population – and assume that Nigeriens are radicalizing. And as far as I can tell, that’s just not the case,” Mueller said.
Instead, threats have spilled into the country from all sides, putting Niger in the crosshairs.