With everything from the fear of deadly snakes to alleged executions by anti-aircraftguns, it’s understandable why many North Koreans desire to flee the Hermit Kingdom.
What’s interesting to note, however, is the economic class of defectors that have found their way out of North Korea. According to a survey from the Korean Unification Ministry, the percentage of defectors from the “middle-class” rose from 19 percent in 2001 to 55.9 percent after 2014.
The increase stems from the fact that more defectors from higher statuses in the North possess the resources to escape, said the Unification Ministry.
So far this year, 894 North Koreans have escaped the country, compared to the 777 in the previous year during the same period. The Unification Ministry claims that this 15 percent increase is on track to bring the total amount of defectors to 30,000 by the end of the year.
Although the reasons to cross the border, or in some exceptional cases remain away from, are numerous, it’s noteworthy that one of their highly publicized punishments in North Korea seems to have decreased: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is estimated to have executed about 130 officials in the 5 years he’s been in power, while Kim Jong Il, his father, had put to death over 2,000 officials in a 6 year span.
The latest high-profile defection comes from Thae Yong-Ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to London, who has since been accused by his former country of leaking state secrets, embezzlement, and child rape. As one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to have defected, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to believe that others will eventually follow suit.
With small arms gunfire, mortar rounds and Rocket Propelled Grenades from hundreds of Taliban firing into a small U.S. Army outpost in Northeastern Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha asked his fellow soldiers if there were any volunteers to help him lead a counterattack to take back the front gate.
He was surprised by the response — a powerful moment of truth which he would later call the proudest moment of his Army career.
Their outpost had been overrun, Army soldiers had been killed, remaining fighters had been unable to get to ammunition supplies and Taliban fighters had breached the front gate, Romesha explained.
“I said I need a group of volunteers. Five guys who did not even know what the plan was and did not know what I was about to ask stood up with pure grit and determination and said they would follow me anywhere. I told them the counterattack plan,” Romesha told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Romesha helped lay down suppressive fire so that fallen soldiers could be recovered during the attack, destroyed numerous Taliban fighters coming through the gate, directed air support from Apache helicopters once they arrived and led an impactful counterattack which turned the tide of the deadly battle on that morning of October 3, 2009.
Romesha and his fellow soldiers, who spent months on a small, 52 soldier-strong fighting position in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan called Combat Outpost Keating, were used to daily attacks from Taliban fighters.
“All of a sudden we were overwhelmed with machine guns, mortars and RPGs. We’d been there three months and had gotten attacked pretty much on a daily basis, so it would not have been unusual to wake up to something like that. When these rounds came in, we knew it was something totally different,” He explained.
Romesha explained that every defensive position went into a cyclic rate of fire to try to defend as fast as they could shoot back — but the enemies overwhelming fire was too much for them.
“Soldiers started running out of ammunition at the battle positions and we could not get resupplies to them because the outpost sat at the bottom of a valley. Anytime you step outside into the open, you were a target. No matter where we stood, bullets were just raining down on us,” he explained.
Romesha’s counterattack plan was both risky and ambitious because he wanted to lead a small team of soldiers to take back ammunition points, close off the front gate to Taliban fighters pouring in, get to a mortar position, and perform a crucially important casualty recovery of the fallen soldiers.
“The Lieutenant gave me a go ahead on the plan. The Taliban fighters that had breached the wire had started torching all the hard structures in the buildings and burning them. The whole outpost was on fire,” Romesha recalled.
Due to resilience and combat determination from Romesha and other soldiers, they were able to fight their way back toward ammunition supply points on the outpost and take back the front gate. This counterattack push resulted in close-quarter battle wherein Taliban fighters were often less than 20-meters away, Romesha explained.
“We started pushing ammo back and started reinforcing positions which allowed us a little more freedom of maneuver,” he said.
As this was happening, air support from Apache attack helicopters arrived along with some eventual reinforcements from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
While he may not choose to explain things this way, it seems clear from the events that day that the whole outpost would not likely have survived – and casualties would have been far greater – had Romesha not shown such courage, spirit and leadership in battle. His counterattack saved the Outpost from complete destruction.
While confronting a deadly blaze of gunfire and repeatedly risking his life to save, defend and recover his fellow soldiers, Romesha was not thinking of recognition on the day of the battle. In fact, upon learning years later that he would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the battle, Romesha was surprised.
“It was definitely a team effort that day. If it was not for those 52 guys I would not be here. I’d rather die today than take one shred of credit for doing nothing more than doing my job like everyone else was doing,” he said.
Romesha went on to emphasize that, in his mind, the real heroes are the eight soldiers who died in battle that day.
“They are only gone unless we do not remember them. In my humble opinion, true heroes are those that don’t come home. Those are the only ones that deserve that title of hero. They gave up everything and more than could ever be asked of them,” he explained.
While he is still reluctant to acknowledge his own heroism on that day in 2009, called the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, Romesha received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in February, 2013.
On the day of the battle, Romesha was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavarly Regment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. He fought alongside fellow soldiers and insists on remembering his fellow American soldiers who died that day.
In order to recognize and pay tribute to Romesha’s emphasis – the names of the eight soldiers who died during the attack are: Vernon Martin, Justin Gallegos, Joshua Kirk, Josh Hardt, Michael Scusa, Stephen Mace, Christopher Griffin and Kevin Thompson.
The intensity of devotion to his fellow soldiers, motivated by loyalty, love and protective instinct, provided the inspiration for Romesha’s actions in combat
“It wasn’t a day of hatred toward the enemy. It did not matter about the politics. It mattered about those brothers to your left and your right – we did not fight because we hated the guys who were attacking us, we did it more because we loved the guys that were on our left and right. Love will win out over hate and anger any day of the week,” Romesha said.
Romesha is the son of a Vietnam veteran and a grandson of a World War II veteran. He lives in North Dakota.
With an abundance of data points on COVID-19 — the news, your friend from high school who has turned into a respiratory and infectious disease expert on social media despite never going to med school, your family, your neighbors, that group text — it’s difficult to discern what is relevant and what is truthful.
Finally, here’s one source that absolutely nails it. Three-year-old toddler “Dr. Big Sister” Hannah Curtis delivers a spot on briefing from her very own White House.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
The 369th Infantry Regiment isn’t a fixture in history textbooks. It should be. Nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans, they were the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War I. They were also one of the most decorated. Here are 5 reasons why the “Harlem Hellfighters” are the ultimate American heroes:
1. They were the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War I
Approximately 380,000 African-Americans served in the U.S. Army during the Great War. Although there was no specific segregation policy outlined in the draft legislation, African-American volunteers were told to “tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separate.” Translation: The military was willing to accept black troops as long as they didn’t mix with the white population. Most of the African-American soldiers who volunteered were confined to labor battalions. Shipped to France in December 1917, the 369th Infantry Regiment was initially going to be kept on the sidelines. Their fortunes changed when Gen. John Pershing assigned them to the16th Division of the French Army. Unlike their American allies, the French were happy to accept any soldier willing to fight on the front lines, regardless of race.
2. The got their nickname from the Germans
The 369th soon became one of the most feared units in the Allied forces. Famous for never ceding an inch of ground, they were nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans. Since over 70 percent of the unit hailed from Harlem, the name stuck. That wasn’t the only nickname they earned during the war: The French were so impressed by their general badassery that they dubbed them the “Men of Bronze.”
3. They introduced the French to American Jazz
Bet you didn’t see this one coming. When they weren’t scaring the bejesusout of the Germans, the369th made some pretty boss music. Led by James Reese Europe, the 369th Infantry Jazz Band, also known as the “Hellfighters,” introduced the French to the sweet stylings of American ragtime. Largely forgotten now, Europe became an international sensation. After the war, the Hellfighters performed for more then a million people when they marched up Fifth Avenue during the World War I victory parade.
4. They saw more combat than any other American unit
The 369th spent 191 consecutive days on the front lines. Which means they saw more action than any other American regiment. They were also the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine.
5. They broke down racial barriers
The “Harlem Hellfighters” helped combat racial stereotypes at home and abroad. When they returned home, the soldiers were welcomed as heroes. Unfortunately for America, this new period of racial tolerance didn’t last. During the “Red Summer” of 1919, anti-black race riots erupted in twenty-six cities across America. Tragically, lynching increased from fifty-eight in 1918 to seventy-seven in 1919. At least ten of the victims were war veterans, and some were lynched while in uniform. The U.S. military remained segregated until 1948.
Interested in learning more about the “Harlem Hellfighters”? Make sure to watch William Miles’s Men of Bronze. Filmed in 1977, the eye-opening documentary features interviews with four veterans of the 369th.
Timothy McVeigh was a reserved, withdrawn teenager who was named “Most Promising Computer Programmer” among his high school classmates after he hacked into a government system using his Commodore 64. After dropping out of junior college he joined the U.S. Army and wound up in the infantry. While at Fort Benning he started reading up on sniper tactics, firearms, and explosives.
He was reprimanded by the military for purchasing a “White Power” T-shirt at a Ku Klux Klan protest against black servicemen who wore “Black Power” T-shirts around the army base.
McVeigh was awarded the Bronze Star for his service as a vehicle crewman in the Desert Storm. He was a top-scoring Bradley Fighting Vehicle gunner while attached to the 1st Infantry Division.
As documented in his authorized biography, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh the Tragedy at Oklahoma City, he decapitated an Iraqi soldier with cannon fire on his first day in the war and was happy about it. He said he later was shocked to be ordered to execute surrendering prisoners and to see carnage on the road leaving Kuwait City after U.S. troops routed the Iraqi army.
McVeigh wanted to transfer to United States Army Special Forces (SF) after the war, but he dropped out after he couldn’t keep up with the physical rigors of the program. Shortly after that, McVeigh decided to leave the Army. He was honorably discharged on December 31, 1991.
He wandered around working menial jobs after he transitioned out of the military, growing increasingly reactionary in his views. He left the Buffalo area because it was “too liberal” and set out looking for his former Army buddies. Along the way he wrote letters to newspaper editors that revealed his political views:
Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate “promises,” they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up. We suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight. Is a Civil War imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that. But it might.
McVeigh also wrote to Representative John J. LaFalce (D-NY) complaining about the arrest of a woman for carrying mace:
It is a lie if we tell ourselves that the police can protect us everywhere at all times. Firearms restrictions are bad enough, but now a woman can’t even carry Mace in her purse?
While visiting friends in Michigan, McVeigh complained that the Army had implanted a microchip into one of his butt cheeks so that the government could keep track of him.
McVeigh worked long hours in a dead-end jobs. He couldn’t get any girls to go out with him. He started gambling obsessively. Unable to pay back gambling debts, he took a cash advance and then defaulted on his repayments. He was enraged when the government told him that he had been overpaid $1,058 while in the Army and he had to pay back the money. He wrote another angry letter to the government:
Go ahead, take everything I own; take my dignity. Feel good as you grow fat and rich at my expense; sucking my tax dollars and property.
He rented an apartment that had no telephone, which had the advantage of making it impossible for his employer to contact him for overtime assignments. He also quit the NRA, viewing its stance on gun rights as too weak.
In 1993, he drove to Waco, Texas during the Waco Siege to show his support. At the scene, he distributed pro-gun rights literature and bumper stickers that read, “When guns are outlawed, I will become an outlaw.”
McVeigh also told a reporter that “the government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. . . . and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.”
He became a fixture on the gun show circuit and worked his way west until he got to Arizona. There he met Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols, two men who shared his radical views about the government. After growing weary of Fortier’s drug use, McVeigh and Nichols headed for Nichols’ farm in Michigan. While there they watched TV coverage of the Waco siege and both became enraged by the government’s heavy-handed attack on the compound there. They decided it was time for action.
McVeigh defined his struggle in a letter to a boyhood friend:
Those who betray or subvert the Constitution are guilty of sedition and/or treason, are domestic enemies and should and will be punished accordingly. It also stands to reason that anyone who sympathizes with the enemy or gives aid or comfort to said enemy is likewise guilty. I have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic and I will. And I will because not only did I swear to, but I believe in what it stands for in every bit of my heart, soul and being. I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle. I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause. Blood will flow in the streets. Good vs. Evil. Free Men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves. Pray it is not your blood, my friend.
Working at a lakeside campground near McVeigh’s old Army post, he and Nichols constructed an ANNM explosive device mounted in the back of a rented Ryder truck. The bomb consisted of about 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane.
On April 19, 1995, McVeigh drove the truck to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building just as its offices opened for the day. Before arriving, he stopped to light a two-minute fuse. At 09:02, a large explosion destroyed the north half of the building. It killed 168 people, including nineteen children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 684 others.
On August 10, 1995, McVeigh was indicted on eleven federal counts, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction by explosives and eight counts of first-degree murder. Among his statements while on Death Row was this:
If there is a hell, then I’ll be in good company with a lot of fighter pilots who also had to bomb innocents to win the war.
He was executed by lethal injection at 7:14 a.m. on June 11, 2001, at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the first federal prisoner to be executed by the United States federal government since 1963.
When Elinor and Arty Nakis brought home the body of their 19-year-old son who had died during a transport mission while deployed with the Army National Guard in Mosul, Iraq, in 2003, an eagle soared over their Sedro-Woolley home.
Another eagle flew overhead on the way to Nathan Nakis’ memorial service, Elinor Nakis recalled.
And in 2008, when the Nakis family helped install indoor climbing and bouldering walls in honor of their son at the Camp Black Mountain Boy Scout camp in Whatcom County, an eagle was there, too.
That’s why Elinor wasn’t surprised to see a young eagle soar overhead Saturday morning during the dedication of the bouldering wall at its new home near Cascade Middle and Evergreen Elementary schools in Sedro-Woolley.
“(Nathan) would be so proud,” she said.
After spending years in storage at a Janicki Industries facility in Hamilton, the bouldering wall formerly housed in Whatcom County is ready to carry on Nathan Nakis’ memory in the community he grew up in.
“We expect this thing to get a lot of use,” Arty Nakis said. “We took the protective covering off last night and it’s already getting used.”
Nathan, a 2002 Sedro-Woolley High School graduate who started in school at Evergreen, was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, his mother said.
As an adult, the Eagle Scout volunteered and worked at Camp Black Mountain and helped build the camp’s first rope climbing course, Elinor Nakis said.
When the course would close for days at a time due to inclement weather, Nathan would tell his mother how much he hoped to see a covered climbing facility for the Scouts to use. The wall located between the Evergreen and Cascade campuses is covered by a roof.
After his death, the Nakis’ could think of no better way to honor their son.
“Elinor and I have always felt that it took the help of our community to raise our sons,” Arty Nakis said at the dedication. “When we lost Nathan, we felt the support and love of this community stronger than ever.”
When the Boy Scout camp closed in 2012, the climbing wall built in Nathan’s honor couldn’t be salvaged, Arty Nakis said, but the bouldering wall was removed so it could one day find a new home for more to enjoy.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said. “It’s an honor to have ‘Nathan’s Boulder’ on our campus. Our kids look forward to playing on this.”
The wall is set to be used not only by students attending the schools, but also by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Skagit County’sSedro-Woolley club that shares the same property.
“This is perfect,” Arty Nakis said. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect spot.”
The district’s special needs students will also utilize the wall for hands-on learning experiences, something that Elinor, a 21-year employee of the Sedro-Woolley School District, is glad to see happen.
“(Whether) it’s Scouting or through the schools, you’ve got to get (kids) out of their comfort zone,” Arty Nakis said. “It builds confidence and trust in each other.”
For Rotary International of Sedro-Woolley President David Bricka, the project took on a special meaning as he remembered his nephew Brian Gurney, who died in December as a result of injuries sustained during a 2014 hiking accident at Pilchuck Falls. Gurney was 19 at the time of the accident.
“(Brian and Nathan) were two great young men that had such an impact,” Bricka said. “They both had 19 years of actively living.”
Sedro-Woolley Mayor Keith Wagoner, a veteran himself with a son currently enlisted, thought the bouldering wall was a perfect fit for the community.
“I have so many friends that went and didn’t come back,” Wagoner said. “Literally thousands of hands have touched this thing. It’s not a monument you stand back and look at.”
Alec Giess, who served with Nathan Nakis and was in the vehicle with him the day Nakis died, drove up for the dedication from Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Giess has become part of the family, Arty Nakis said.
“It was a combat mission on a crummy day,” Giess said. “Everybody liked (Nathan). (Nathan’s story) won’t end now. It’ll keep going.”
Growing tensions with Russia have led NATO and its members to make a number of changes to their military posture on the ground in Europe, and now the US is reactivating its Second Fleet to oversee the northern Atlantic Ocean and US East Coast.
The Second Fleet was deactivated in September 2011 after 65 years of service as part of a cost-saving and organizational-restructuring effort; many of its personnel and responsibilities were folded into US Fleet Forces Command. The announcement of its reactivation came during the change-of-command ceremony for US Fleet Forces Command, to which the Second Fleet commander will now report.
Second Fleet’s return is part of a shift by the US toward preparing for potential great-power conflict — and to counter Russia in particular.
“Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great-power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of US Naval Operations, said on April 4, 2018.
“Second Fleet will exercise operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean,” Richardson said. It will also plan and conduct maritime, joint, and combined operations and train, certify, and provide maritime forces in response events around the world.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Matt Matlage)
The fleet will be activated on July 1, 2018, and initially be staffed by 11 officers and four enlisted personnel, eventually growing to 85 officers, 164 enlisted personnel, and seven civilians, according to a memo announcing the change obtained by US Naval Institute News.
Issues such as the rank of the commander and relationship with joint commandant commands remain to be decided.
Also unclear is the future of Fourth Fleet, which is the naval branch of US Southern Command set up in 2008, largely to host Coast Guard law-enforcement detachments. Prior to 2008, the Second Fleet was responsible for operations in Central and South American waters.
The ‘fourth battle of the Atlantic’
Prior to the 2014 seizure of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine by Russian forces, Navy forces on the US side of the Atlantic Ocean were mainly focused on humanitarian and disaster relief missions as well as drug interdiction.
But Russian naval activity has increased considerably in recent years, with several NATO officials describing it as being at the highest levels since the Cold War. (Though Cold War-era intelligence reports indicate that activity is still far short of Cold War peaks.)
Russia’s navy is also smaller than it was during the Cold War, but Moscow has pursued ambitious modernization efforts, focusing primarily on the Black Sea and Northern fleets. The latter force, based in and around the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic, represents a significant military force a short distance from NATO territory in Norway and contains Russia’s sea-based nuclear forces.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael C. Barton)
In 2016, US Navy Adm. James Foggo III, who is now chief of Naval Forces Europe, described tensions between Russia and the US as the “fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following the surface and submarine battles of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.
“Once again, an effective, skilled, and technologically advanced Russian submarine force is challenging us,” he said. “Russian submarines are prowling the Atlantic, testing our defenses, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing the complex underwater battlespace to give them an edge in any future conflict.”
The US Navy has increased its patrols in the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic, and the Arctic. US Navy ships have also been more active in the Black Sea to “desensitize Russia” to a US military presence there. US and Russian ships have also operated in close quarters in the eastern Mediterranean, where Russian forces are assisting the Bashar Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
The Navy is also renovating hangers in Iceland to house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft there to monitor the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, a choke point for ships moving between the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans — though that doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent presence will be reestablished there.
NATO is making changes to its command structure in response to increased tension with Russia and to prepare for potential military operations on and around the continent.
In March 2018, Germany announced that the proposed NATO logistics command — which would work to streamline the movement of personnel and material around Europe — would be based in the southern city of Ulm.
The other new command the alliance wants to establish would oversee and protect the North Atlantic. In the event of conflict with Russia, it be responsible for keeping sea lanes open for US reinforcements heading to Europe.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On April 25, Iraqi troops drove out Islamic State militants from the largest neighborhood in the western half of the city of Mosul, a senior military commander said, a major development in the months-long fight to recapture the country’s second-largest city.
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January, after officially launching the operation to retake the city in October.
In February, the troops started a new push to clear Mosul’s western side of IS militants, but weeks later their push stalled mainly due to stiff resistance by the Sunni militant group.
On April 25, special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press that the sprawling al-Tanek neighborhood was now “fully liberated and under full control” of the security forces. Al-Saadi did not provide more details.
Also April 25, the government-sanctioned paramilitary troops, made up mainly of Shiite militiamen, launched a new push to retake the town of Hatra to the south of Mosul. The force’s spokesman, Ahmed al-Asadi, said the operation is being conducted from three directions with aerial support from the Iraqi Air Force. Al-Asadi did not elaborate.
Hatra is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site of the same name that was destroyed by IS as part of the militant’s efforts to demolish archaeological sites in and around Mosul. The extremists consider the priceless archaeological treasures — some dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. — as idolatry but have at the same time smuggled and sold many looted artifacts to fund their war.
Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
Everyone remembers their oath of enlistment ceremony, but how many people can say theirs was truly out of this world? Tomorrow, over 800 soldiers participating in a ceremony spanning more than 100 locations around the country will be able to say theirs was. What makes this ceremony so special? It’s being administered by Army astronaut Col. Andrew Morgan from the International Space Station.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us to partner with Space Center Houston to recognize future Soldiers across the nation with a truly unique experience,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, USAREC deputy commanding general in a press release. Michaelis will facilitate the ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan. “This is the first event of its kind and will allow us to show the nation the breadth and depth of opportunities the Army offers today’s youth.”
According to USAREC, Morgan is part of the U.S. Army Astronaut Detachment, which supports NASA with flight crew and provides engineering expertise for human interface with space systems. He is an emergency physician in the U.S. Army with sub-specialty certification in primary care sports medicine and was selected to become an astronaut in 2013.
Morgan is also a combat veteran with airborne and ranger tabs and also has served as a combat diver. He’s clearly conquered land and sea, and now space. He’s completed seven spacewalks and one flight to the International Space Station. In addition to the enlistment ceremony, he’ll be sharing his stories and experiences with program attendees on a 20 minute live call from outer space.
Michaelis said, “We need qualified and innovative people to help us continuously adapt to the changing world. The young men and women who will begin their Army story with the incredible experience with Col. Morgan are part of our future. They will perform the traditional jobs most people associate with the Army, like infantry and armor, but they will also take on roles many people don’t realize we do – highly technical and specialized careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
The oath of enlistment ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan will stream live on NASA TV, DVIDS, and U.S. Army Facebook and YouTube pages beginning at 12:50 pm eastern time. We’re over the moon about this event.
The CIA’s drone and surveillance programs are starting to wear on al-Qaeda’s leadership. The latest trove of Osama bin Laden’s captured personal documents from the Director of National Intelligence included personal letters, al-Qaeda memos, and even a personal letter to the American people.
The release shows a rising paranoia about drones, spies, and the various agencies tracking their movement. Al-Qaeda is still waging their brand of global jihad, but are wary about how they continue their operations.
In one memo, bin Laden warned kidnappers about tracking devices in ransom payments. Another letter discusses the wrongful execution of four accused spies. He also tells negotiators in Peshawar to only leave their homes on cloudy days, he tells operatives to be aware of infrared markers on their cars, and even worrying about Iranian dentists implanting tracking devices in their dental fillings.
The documents were seized in the May 2011 raid on OBL’s Abottabad compound when members of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six killed the terrorist leader and captured his “bookshelf.”
This second release has been translated to English and declassified, and reflects events between 2009 and 2011. Just days before the raid that killed him, bin Laden wrote about the ongoing “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East. He urged more attacks against the U.S., but did not fully appreciate the battle space.
“He was somewhat out of touch with the (actual) capabilities of his organization,” an unnamed source told Business Insider. “Many of his best leaders are dead.”
The Navy wants a drone tanker that can launch from ships. And Boeing Co. has thrown its hat in the ring with a futuristic design.
On Dec. 19, Boeing offered a public peek at its design for what the Navy is calling the MQ-25 Stingray: an unmanned aircraft system that can offer in-air refueling to the service’s fighters, including the F-35C.
General Atomics revealed concept art of its proposal for the MQ-25 earlier this year, publishing photos of an aircraft with wide wings, almost fighter-like in silhouette. The prototype aircraft Boeing revealed today has a domed top and thicker body.
In all, four companies were expected to compete for the MQ-25 contract, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. However, Northrop, expected to compete with its X-47B blended-wing-body UAS, dropped out of consideration in October.
To date, Lockheed has only published teaser images of what its unmanned tanker prototype would look like.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, the head of the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”
According to the Boeing’s announcement, the prototype aircraft is now completing engine runs and had yet to take its first flight. Deck handling demonstrations are set to begin in early 2018.
The Navy’s unmanned tanker program had been renamed and re-envisioned multiple times as officials juggle requirements and capabilities. The program was formerly called CBARS, Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, before being renamed the MQ-25.
According to Naval Air Systems Command, the MQ-25 will not only deliver “robust organic” refueling capability, but will also interface with existing ship and land-based systems, including those providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
The competing companies have until Jan. 3 to get their full proposals in; Boeing expects to pick a design in the second quarter of 2018.