Kim Jong Un may enjoy being photographed frequently, but his desire to be at the center of state media attention may be irritating ordinary North Koreans.
Kim’s recurring presence in North Korean newspapers, like the Rodong Sinmun, now means major state visits must be commemorated with dozens of Kim photographs per issue, Daily NK reported Dec. 18.
On Dec. 9, Kim’s visit to Samjiyon in Yanggang Province was announced in the newspaper with 60 photographs from the location, with 50 out of the 60 pictures including Kim.
The attention-seeking Kim is drawing criticism from North Koreans, who say he is trying to repair his image following the execution of his uncle-in-law Jang Song Taek.
One North Korea source told Daily NK the “very common” photographs are a problem for smokers.
“People don’t like it,” the source said. “Among workers, who are looking for spare newspaper to roll up a cigarette, it is becoming increasingly hard to find a fragment without a portrait of Kim Jong Un.”
North Korea law forbids people from using pictures of Kim in derogatory ways, and travelers to North Korea have previously told UPI they are not allowed to fold a crease across a picture of Kim’s face or damage an image of him in newspapers.
Kim may be tightening his grip as he concludes his fifth full year in power.
Analysts at Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy said Dec. 18 that Kim has purged top officials Hwang Pyong So and Kim Won Hong, less than a week after a South Korean newspaper reported Hwang may have been expelled from the Workers’ Party for taking bribes.
The INSS also said economic sanctions could hit the elites, and Kim could purge more economic officials to assign blame as conditions worsen in the country, Yonhap reported.
The U.S. Navy issued a warning to China’s Navy over Instagram this week, telling China that it doesn’t want to “play laser tag” with the U.S. Navy with their destroyer-based laser weapons.
Last month, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy destroyer pointed a military grade laser weapon at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, which is an aircraft designed specifically for various types of sea-based warfare, including anti-submarine operations. According to Defense Department reports, the P-8A was flying approximately 380 miles west of Guam when it encountered a Chinese destroyer believed to have been the Hohhot, among the latest and most advanced destroyers in China’s fleet.
The destroyer reportedly shined a laser weapon at the P-8A, though the laser caused no injuries or immediately recognizable damage. The aircraft is being inspected further for issues. Despite the low level of threat the laser posed, the U.S. Navy has been taking this attack quite seriously, recognizing it as a test, both of their weapon’s efficacy and of the American response.
While the Navy’s warning on Instagram seems almost playful, the U.S. Navy isn’t messing around when it comes to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, nor are they kidding about their laser weapons. The U.S. currently has a number of laser weapons under development, and just recently deployed one aboard the USS Dewey aimed at “dazzling” or blinding and confusing drones.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has had reports of being engaged with Chinese lasers, nor is it the first time these two naval powers have found themselves in a staring contest over China’s claims of sovereignty throughout the region. The United States and the international community recognize China’s claimed ownership of the South China Sea as illegal, but China’s Navy has been rapidly expanding to enforce their claims in recent years.
China’s claims over the South China Sea are shown in red.
With neither China nor the U.S. backing down in the Pacific, and laser weapons becoming more commonplace by the day, it seems entirely likely that this won’t be the last round of laser tag between our two navies.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made waves on Friday when he expressed his dissatisfaction with decades of failed diplomacy towards North Korea and mentioned that the US would consider “all options,” including military strikes.
To be fair, the US has always considered all options.
If any nation in the world threatens another, the US, with its global reach, considers a range of diplomatic, economic, and even kinetic options to shape the situation.
But defense experts say a military strike against North Korea is unlikely for a number of reasons.
“There is no plausible military option,” Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk told Business Insider. “To remove the North Korean government is general war.”
North Korea has a large amount of massive fixed guns trained on South Korea. | KCNA
Because North Korea has missiles hidden all across the country, there’s simply no way to quickly and cleanly remove the Kim regime from power or even neutralize the nuclear threat, according to Lewis.
“This is not a case where you’re striking a nuclear program in its early stages,” said Lewis, who noted that North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons for more than a decade. “The time to do a preemptive attack was like 20 years ago.”
Last September, the country tested a nuclear weapon some estimates suggest was more powerful than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima.
While North Korea’s nuclear threat has grown, according to Lewis, massive artillery installations hidden in the hills and trained on South Korea’s capital and most populous city, Seoul have long been a problem.
But artillery and shelling is nowhere near as destructive as nuclear weapons. If North Korean artillery fired on Seoul, South Korea would counter attack and suppress fire.
“It would kill a lot of people and be a humanitarian disaster,” Lewis said of a North Korean artillery strike on Seoul. “But that’s nothing like putting a nuclear weapon on Seoul, Busan, or Tokyo. North Korea’s ability to inflict damage has gone way up.”
As Tillerson accurately stated, diplomatic efforts to quash North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have failed for decades. The US’s patience has been understandably tried by the recent missile launches clearly intended as a saturation attack, where a large volume of missiles would overwhelm US and allied missile defenses.
However, there is a way out. China recently floated a North Korean-backed proposal for the US to end their annual military drills with South Korea and, in return, North Korea would stop working on nukes. The US flat out rejected the offer, as they have in the past.
“The onus is on North Korea to take meaningful actions toward denuclearization and refrain from provocations,” Mark Toner, the acting spokesman for the State Department, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
Toner suggested that comparing the US’s transparent, planned, defensive, and 40-year-old military drills in South Korea with North Korea’s 24 ballistic missile launches in 2016 was a case of “apples to oranges.”
North Korea’s position is “not crazy,” according to Lewis. There is a long history of serious military conflicts beginning under the pretense of military exercises, as Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia did.
“The reality is that the US forces are there, we say they’re there for an exercise, but you can’t take that as a promise, you have to treat it as an invasion,” said Lewis.
Instead, Lewis suggested that part of the purpose of the military exercises has always been to make sure the US and South Korea can capably execute their war plans, but the other purpose has always been political — to reassure South Korea.
Meanwhile, each year the Foal Eagle exercises, where the US and South Korea rehearse their war plan for conflict with North Korea, grow in size. Lewis said that reducing the exercises could go a long way towards calming down North Korea.
If diplomacy and sanctions continue to fail, the consequences could be disastrous.
“North Korea wants an ICBM with a thermonuclear weapon. They’re not going to stop cause they get bored,” Lewis said.
The US and North Korea are currently locked in strategies to “maximize pain” on the other party, according to Lewis. The US holds massive drills in part to scare North Korea, while North Korea tests nukes to scare the west.
Without some form of cooperation between the two sides soon, diplomacy will continue to fail until it fails catastrophically. And that makes military confrontations, though unlikely, more viable every day.
Imagine your spouse or family member is deployed on a carrier. Now, imagine it’s during a global pandemic, which has notoriously infiltrated cruise ships, rendering hundreds of passengers ill. Finally, imagine you learn that your loved one’s ship is impacted by scrolling through Facebook and reading a headline.
Unfortunately, this imagined scenario is one military spouse’s reality.
Elizabeth (whose last name we won’t use for personal security reasons) was looking at Facebook, taking a much-needed break from quarantine with her four kids, when she saw a friend (whose husband is deployed with hers) had posted an article by Business Insider that immediately stopped her scroll: “There has been a coronavirus outbreak aboard a deployed US Navy aircraft carrier.” The article states that there have been three confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the USS Theodore Roosevelt – Elizabeth’s husband’s ship.
Her heart sank. “We haven’t heard from them in awhile,” she said in an interview with WATM. “Anytime anything noteworthy happens, communication goes down whether on purpose or by coincidence,” she shared. She immediately got on the phone with other spouses to see if anyone had heard through official or personal channels what was going on.
Communication varied. One spouse got a voicemail from her sailor that he was fine. Another received a quick email saying there were only two cases on the ship, while one other had heard 15 sailors had it. This rumor mill is exactly why comms are shut down, to prevent misinformation for families desperate for an update.
When asked if she was upset she hadn’t heard from her husband, Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, I’m not surprised,” she said. “He’s a team player. I know he would make sure all of his people had a chance to use the phone or email if there was an opportunity to do so before he did. He’s been in for 14 years and he’s been deployed a lot — he’s had almost six years of sea time. Really, this is not even the worst communication he’s had on a deployment. I’ve gotten used to that — nobody has all of the information; you just hope for the best and wait for your family member to contact you.”
But in the meantime, Elizabeth feels the weight of the gravity of the situation.
“I’m trying not to go into panic mode yet,” she said. “It’s the military, you just don’t know, but I hope if my husband was sick, someone would tell me.” Elizabeth also wants to know what protective and preventive measures are being taken. “It sounds like from the article that the sick sailors were medevaced and now it’s just business as usual. But in my mind, the likelihood of it being isolated is very small. They’re on top of each other in close quarters and there are 5,000 of them. They use the same phones, touch the same doors, eat together, share work space. It’s a floating petri dish. I want to know what they’re doing to sanitize. How closely they’re monitoring things. Is someone asking them every day? Are they taking temperatures? Are they really doing everything they can to keep our sailors safe?”
While Elizabeth is worried about her husband, she also has a healthy dose of perspective and a great sense of humor. She’s thankful to be surrounded by family and a community that continues to support her. “I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said. Elizabeth and her husband have a five year old, three year old and twins who are just one and a half. “We had a lot of time on shore duty,” she laughed. “We got cocky thinking we would have one more and then boom: twins.”
When asked how she’s really coping with four kids in quarantine and a spouse deployed on a “floating petri dish,” Elizabeth took a long sigh but said, “Honestly, I feel like military spouses are better prepared for this than anyone. With military life, we spend a decent amount of time figuring it out on our own. I wouldn’t say this is even the most isolated I’ve ever been. The ‘not knowing what’s going to happen,’ not knowing what the schedule is going to be in a few weeks or months, it’s par for the course for us. I’ve been through the ringer enough times with the Navy, but for a lot of our friends, this is their first deployment. Mostly my heart has been with the ones who haven’t been through this before because I remember how it felt when all of this was new.”
Elizabeth shared the importance of reaching out. “Military community is so, so important. I love that the word encourage literally means to impart courage … that’s who the military spouse community is for me — it’s courage by proxy. The news is full of stories of women who are worrying they might be forced to give birth alone due to coronavirus restrictions, but military spouses have been giving birth to babies without family or husbands there, often overseas, for as long as time. They’ve moved alone, pursued careers alone, overcome all of these obstacles. One of the things you deal with is that feeling of isolation, which is so perfectly themed for where we are in the world right now. But you’re never really alone.”
Elizabeth continued, “It was so hard to hear the news of coronavirus on the ship, but it was so great to be surrounded by so many people who exactly know what we’re going through. There is strength in numbers. We’re not the only family going through this. We’ll be okay.”
Legendary Canadian actor Christopher Plummer was arguably one of the greatest actors post-WWII. Beginning his career in 1946, Plummer remained an active thespian throughout his life. He is best known for his role as Captain George von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Plummer was also a go-to actor to play historical figures like Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in Waterloo, Emperor Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm II in The Exception. On February 5, 2021, Plummer died at the age of 91.
Born in Toronto, Ontario on December 13, 1929, Plummer was a direct descendant of Sir John Abbott, Canada’s third Prime Minister. He was inspired to take up acting after watching Laurence Olivier’s Henry V and became an apprentice at the Montreal Repertory Theatre where William Shatner also acted. In 1946, Plummer performed his first role as Mr. Darcy in a school production of Pride and Prejudice.
In 1953, he appeared on television, both Canadian and American, and Broadway. Plummer acted mainly on stage and did not appear on screen for six years after 1958. His return to film was as Emperor Commodus in 1964’s The Fall of the Roman Empire. The next year, Plummer would see his film career soar to new heights with The Sound of Music.
Despite it being his best-known role, Plummer once described The Sound of Music as “so awful and sentimental and gooey.” Aside from working with Julie Andrews, Plummer recounted that he found all aspects of making the film to be unpleasant, going so far as to nickname it “The Sound of Mucus.” Still, he acknowledged the film’s importance in retrospect. “But it was a very well-made movie,” he said in a 2009 interview , “and it’s a family movie and we haven’t seen a family movie, I don’t think, on that scale for ages.”
Classic military film enthusiasts will be most familiar with Plummer for his roles in the war epics Battle of Britain from 1969 and Waterloo the following year. In Battle of Britain, Plummer plays Canadian pilot Squadron Leader Colin Harvey, one of the first allied characters audiences are introduced to. In Waterloo, he takes on the role of the legendary British hero, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley who ended the Napoleonic Wars by defeating the French Emperor in the titular battle.
Christopher Plummer went on to act through the century and right up to his death. One of his last on-screen appearances was in a 2020 episode of Jeopardy! as a clue presenter. His final movie role is as a voice actor in the yet-to-be-released animated film Heroes of the Golden Masks.
Plummer died peacefully in his home with his wife by his side from complications following a fall. “The world has lost a consummate actor today and I have lost a cherished friend,” said The Sound of Music costar Julie Andrews. “I treasure the memories of our work together and all the humor and fun we shared through the years.” Plummer’s legacy is immortalized on screen in over 100 films and in the hearts and minds of his fans around the world.
Hundreds of defectors from Islamic State have massed in Syria’s Idlib province, with many planning to cross the nearby Turkish border and find ways back to the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
Several dozen former fighters have already made it across the heavily patrolled frontier to towns and cities in Turkey’s south in recent weeks, the Guardian has confirmed. Four Saudi Arabian extremists arrived in a southern Turkish community in early September after paying smugglers $2,000 each for the perilous journey past border guards who have shot dead scores of infiltrators this year alone.
The exodus of fighters from areas controlled by ISIS to other parts of Syria and Iraq has continued throughout the past year, as the terror group has lost much of its former heartland to a concerted assault by Iraqi troops, forces allied to the Syrian regime and a US-led air coalition in both countries.
However, large numbers of militants and their families are now trying to leave the war-battered states altogether – posing significant challenges to a global intelligence community that, for the most part, views them as a hostile and unmanageable threat, and sees limited scope for their reintegration.
A Saudi national who fled Syria in late August told the Guardian that as many as 300 former ISIS members, many of them Saudis, had established a community north of Idlib city, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Most want to leave, like me,” said the 26-year-old, who called himself Abu Saad. “A lot of them realise that the group they were with tricked them. Others don’t trust Nusra. There are not many who believe that the people that they were with were on the right path.”
Abu Saad said the Saudi nationals, as well some Europeans, Moroccans, and Egyptians, had gathered together as a buffer against al-Nusra, which has exerted its influence across Idlib and the surrounding countryside by toppling its rivals. ISIS has not had an organised presence in the area since early 2014 when it was ousted by a rebel assault that saw its members flee east to the town of al-Bab in the Aleppo hinterland and further into Minbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, and Deir Azzour.
Former members of the group, however, have steadily been returning to Idlib and seeking refuge since late 2015. “That was when I left,” said Abu Saad, speaking days after he arrived in southern Turkey. “Others joined me later, and more are coming now.”
The full scale of the extremist exodus from ISIS-held parts of Iraq and Syria remains unclear, with most of the land it conquered having been recaptured, leaving a divided and demoralized rump with next to nowhere to hide. One of ISIS’s two main centers of power – Mosul in Iraq – fell in February, and the other – Raqqa in Syria – is slipping further into the hands of US-backed Kurdish forces who had already hounded the group from most of Syria’s northeast.
Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to have been killed in the battle to retain territory it seized from mid-2014, and thousands more homegrown extremists are believed to have returned to their communities.
But the numbers of foreign fighters who have survived and are looking to return to their homes have been more difficult to gauge. So too have the true intentions of men who had allied themselves to the world’s most feared terror group during its ascendancy, but claim no further part of it as its reach and influence dwindles.
French officials have said privately that they would rather that nationals who traveled to join ISIS died on battlefields and have no plans to support those who now want to return. Other European states have expressed similar sentiments.
ISIS defectors had at one point been of high interest to intelligence agencies who had made little ground in penetrating the group as it consolidated a hold on swaths of Syria and Iraq and plotted attacks in Europe and beyond.
As the group has capitulated, MI6, the CIA, and France’s DGSE have had increasing access to informants whom they have met within Kurdish controlled areas of Syria’s northeast and in northern Iraq. The increased access to informants with real-time information has left those who fled earlier with less leverage over governments who might otherwise have agreed to talk with them.
“It’s a lot better than it used to be,” said one intelligence official. “We have a more complete picture than we did.”
Abu Saad said he would not return to Saudi Arabia if doing so meant a prison sentence. “A rehabilitation program? Maybe,” he said. “I went to Syria some time in 2012. I went to support the Syrian people and in the first few months I was with the Muhajirin.”
“It wasn’t until early the next year that my unit swore allegiance to ISIS. It was a poisoned flower. It wasn’t what I expected.”
As the group’s fate worsened, tensions increased within its ranks, Abu Saad claimed. Summary executions were carried out on increasingly flimsy pretexts, such as insubordination, or making contact with Syrian opposition groups, he said. Over time, arguments about the ideology and theology also intensified.
“They don’t understand the Tawheed (the oneness of God). They are always arguing about it. I saw no justice with them. I saw cruelty. But how could I disagree? It had such a hierarchy. Everyone has a boss who they are afraid of. And above them all was [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.] He was the ultimate authority and no one could argue with him about religious law. If you tried to defy them about anything, you put yourself in danger.”
“My job was to inspect prisons. If there were abuses then I would report on them. One time in Minbij, there was a lady in a cell for 13 days with no toilet and no water for cleaning. She was there because she threatened to kill a man who had killed her husband. There was worse than that though. There were people in prison who had done nothing wrong at all.
“In Idlib, there are around 300 people trying to escape. Many of them are Saudis. Some want to see their families one last time and they say they will accept what’s coming to them. I don’t know any of them who believe in the [Islamic] State. They all ran away for a reason.”
The mysterious death of Maj. Gen. (Promotable) John G. Rossi on July 31, shortly before he was to be promoted to lieutenant general and take command of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, has now been ruled a suicide.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Rossi is the highest-ranking officer and first Army general officer to kill himself while on active duty since statistics were kept in 2000. In an obituary posted online, Rossi left behind a wife, three children (one an Army officer), his father and a sister.
During his career, Rossi had received the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, among other decorations. He had served a tour during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While Rossi’s suicide is the Army’s first active duty general officer who took his own life since the Department of Defense started to keep statistics in 2000, high-ranking officials committing suicide is not an unknown phenomenon.
One of the most notable incidents involved Adm. Jeremy Boorda who was the Chief of Naval Operations when he shot himself in May, 1996. Another incident involved James Forrestal, who had recently resigned as Secretary of Defense when he was hospitalized for treatment of “overwork” (he was actually suffering from serious depression). In May of 1949, he jumped out of a window at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Even legendary military leaders contemplated suicide. William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who was most famous for capturing Atlanta and his March to the Sea, had a mental breakdown in late 1861 during which he considered taking his own life.
In a statement released after the announcement of Rossi’s cause of death his family said, “For our family, this has been an incredibly painful time, and we ask that you continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately.”
The fate of two Turkish soldiers now hangs in the balance as they have become the unwilling guests of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIS).
Supporters of the terrorist group have reportedly been debating what to do with the captured soldiers.
According to a report by al Jazeera, the two Turkish troops were captured during a battle near the Syrian village of Elbab. The announcement from the terrorist group about the captives caused a celebration on Facebook and other social media sites.
The celebration then turned to into a debate when one ISIS dirtbag solicited opinions on what to do with the prisoners.
“Expect a nifty video with the soldiers of the tyrant infidel Erdogan,” one ISIS supporter tweeted, adding two knife emojis. ISIS has routinely beheaded some of its captives, including American journalist James Foley. “Jihadi John,” the ISIS jihadist who was responsible for the terrorist group’s most notorious beheadings, became a good jihadist in Nov. 2015.
Others advocated not beheading them, but treating them humanely and educating them about Islam, with one saying, “it would only give the members a momentary boost of adrenaline but not much more.”
Most followers of jihadists, though, were calling for the summary execution of the Turkish troops, whom they deemed “nonbelievers.” One of the senior terrorists claimed, “All the options are on the table for the Islamic State organization to decide what to do with the two Turkish soldiers.”
The terrorist group burned a captured Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot alive in February 2015 after his F-16 crashed due to a mechanical failure.
The far side of the moon is hiding a colossal secret beneath its airless, pockmarked surface.
No one is quite sure what it is — the most precise wording researchers can muster is a “large excess of mass.”
The feature lurks dozens of miles beneath a 1,550-mile-wide impact crater called the South Pole-Aitken Basin, which we can’t see from Earth. Ideas for what the mysterious lump may be include the splattered core of a giant metallic asteroid or an ocean of red-hot magma that slowly froze in place.
“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground,” Peter B. James, a geoscientist at Baylor University, said in a press release. “That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected.”
James is one of a handful of US scientists who announced their discovery in a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The gravitational force of “whatever it is, wherever it came from,” James said, is so great that it drags down the floor of the basin by more than half a mile.
A rendering of a lunar rover for China’s Chang’e-4 moon mission.
(China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)
A giant secret below the solar system’s oldest, biggest preserved crater
The South Pole-Aitken Basin is believed to be the site of a horrendous collision that occurred about 500 million years after the moon formed. It’s thought to be the largest and oldest intact crater on any planetary body within the solar system.
Whatever formed the basin nearly 4 billion years ago remains a mystery, but the blow was so strong that it likely punched all the way through the moon’s crust and tossed part of the lunar mantle — a deeper geologic layer — onto the surface.
For these reasons, geologists are eager to explore the basin to glean clues about the moon’s formation and composition. In fact, China recently landed its Chang’e 4 mission there (specifically within a roughly 111-mile-wide crater called Von Kármán) to study part of the basin.
James and his colleagues discovered the anomaly beneath the basin by merging data from two NASA missions at the moon. One is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which continues to constantly photograph the lunar surface and has led to high-definition surface elevation maps.
The mysterious lunar lump exists below the surface of the lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin (in blues and purples).
The other mission was the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), which involved two spacecraft — GRAIL A and GRAIL B — working in tandem to detect variations in the strength of the moon’s gravitational field. Larger variations helped tease out information about the moon’s core, and subtler ones revealed unseen mineral deposits, asteroid impact sites, and subsurface features.
“When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said. “One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the moon’s mantle.”
If the mass is a metallic asteroid core, it didn’t get stuck inside the moon intact; instead, computer simulations suggest it could have spread out as it struck. The researchers think such splattering may have kept the metal floating about 186 miles beneath the crust; otherwise it might have sunk down into the moon’s core, which starts about 310 miles deep.
Another explanation is that, following the impact that formed the basin, a huge ocean of metal-rich magma pooled inside of the lunar crust and solidified into a dense slab.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Throughout our military careers, we had the distinct privilege of shopping at the base exchanges and would receive discounts on many items. After being discharged, most of us lost those benefits — until now.
Mark Wahlberg and Marcus Luttrell are here to officially announce that those discount advantages are coming back starting Nov. 11, 2017, for veterans who qualify.
“All honorably discharged veterans are encouraged to visit VetVerify.org to confirm eligibility for their lifetime exchange online benefit today,” Luttrell states in the informational video. “Thank you for your service and welcome home, guys.”
This process is extremely simple; just go to www.vetverify.org and register your information to see if you’re eligible. Once completed, you’ll receive an email confirming your newly earned lifelong online benefits. Many veterans are even being pre-selected to test the benefits immediately, instead of waiting until November.
The duo first teamed up in 2013’s epic true story “Lone Survivor,” directed by Peter Berg. Wahlberg played Luttrell in the film, exemplifying the SEAL’s heroic journey.
The Army is preparing to receive delivery of its first of six newly-upgraded MIA2 SEP v3 Abrams Main Battle Tank pilot tank vehicles — specifically engineered to keep pace with fast changing technology and counter major armored warfare threats for decades to come.
The Army is now building the next versions of the Abrams tank – an effort which advances on-board power, electronics, computing, sensors, weapons and protection to address the prospect of massive, mechanized, force-on-force great power land war in coming decades, officials with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems told Scout Warrior.
The first MIA2 SEP v3 tank, built by General Dynamics Land Systems, is slated to arrive as soon as this month – as part of a delivery of initial prototype vehicles, developers said.
“The Army’s ultimate intent is to upgrade the entire fleet of M1A2 vehicles — at this time, over 1,500 tanks,” Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for PEO GCS, told Scout Warrior.
The first v3 pilot vehicles will feature technological advancements in communications, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency and upgraded armor.
This current mobility and power upgrade, among other things, adds an auxiliary power unit for fuel efficiency and on-board electrical systems, improved armor materials, upgraded engines and transmission and a 28-volt upgraded drive system.
“The Abrams has been around since early 80s, and the original designers were forward thinking to build in the provisions for continual upgrade. Over the years, there have been significant improvements in sensor capabilities, power generation, mobility, lethality, survivability, armor and situational awareness,” Donald Kotchman, Vice President, Tracked Combat Vehicles, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In addition to receiving a common high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations, some of the current electronics, called Line Replaceable Units, will be replaced with new Line Replaceable Modules including the commander’s display unit, driver’s control panel, gunner’s control panel, turret control unit and a common high-resolution display, developers from General Dynamics Land Systems say.
Facilitating continued upgrades, innovations and modernization efforts for the Abrams in years to come is the principle rationale upon which the Line Replacement Modules is based. It encompasses the much-discussed “open architecture” approach wherein computing standards, electronics, hardware and software systems can efficiency be integrated with new technologies as they emerge.
Kotchman added that moving to Line Replaceable Modules vastly improves computing capacity, power distribution and fire-control technology for the Abrams.
“The principle difference between the Line Replaceable Unit and Module is modularity. Currently to initiate a repair or an upgrade of a LRU, you must remove the entire unit from the tank, take it to a test bench and make the changes. Under the Line Replaceable Module concept, internal diagnostics isolates and determines failure at the card level. The card has been constructed such that you can remove it and replace it without damaging it,” Kotchman said. “Similarly, when new capability is introduced or increased computing power is required, changes can be made at the card level rather than redesigning the entire unit.”
This M1A2 SEP v3 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare devices such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device – Electronic Warfare – CREW. An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together.
The Abrams is also expected to get an advanced force-tracking system which uses GPS technology to rapidly update digital moving map displays with icons showing friendly and enemy force positions.
The system, called Joint Battle Command Platform, uses an extremely fast Blue Force Tracker 2 Satcom network able to reduce latency and massively shorten refresh time. Having rapid force-position updates in a fast-moving combat circumstance, quite naturally, could bring decisive advantages in both mechanized and counterinsurgency warfare.
The GDLS development deal also advances a commensurate effort to design and construct and even more advanced M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond. The v4 is designed to be more lethal, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said.
“The current M1A2 SEPv3 production will transition to the v4 configuration in 2023. The v4 upgrade is currently scheduled to begin production in 2023 with fielding in 2025,” Givens said.
The Army-GDLS deal is also the first contract is for SEPv4 upgrades, which include the Commander’s Primary Sight, an improved Gunner’s Primary Sight and enhancements to sensors, lethality and survivability.
“General Dynamics Land Systems will deliver seven prototype M1A2 SEPv4 tanks to the Army. The contract has an initial value of $311 million,” a company statement said.
Advanced networking technology with next-generation sights, sensors, targeting systems and digital networking technology — are all key elements of an ongoing upgrade to position the platform to successfully engage in combat against rapidly emerging threats, such as the prospect of confronting a Russian T-14 Armata or Chinese 3rd generation Type 99 tank.
The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round, Army developers told Scout Warrior.
While Army officials explain that many of the details of the next-gen systems for the future tanks are not available for security reasons, Army developers did explain that the lethality upgrade, referred to as an Engineering Change Proposal, or ECP, is centered around the integration of a higher-tech 3rd generation FLIR – Forward Looking Infrared imaging sensor.
The advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Army official said.
Improved FLIR technologies help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander’s independent thermal viewer.
Rear view sensors and laser detection systems are part of these v4 upgrades as well. Also, newly configured meteorological sensors will better enable Abrams tanks to anticipate and adapt to changing weather or combat conditions more quickly, Army officials said.
“Meteorological sensors are being integrated into the fire control system. It provides information into fire control algorithms that help increase the accuracy and precision of your weapon system,” Givens added.
The emerging M1A2 SEP v4 will also be configured with a new slip-ring leading to the turret and on-board ethernet switch to reduce the number of needed “boxes” by networking sensors to one another in a single vehicle.
Advanced Multi-Purpose Round
The M1A2 SEP v4 will carry Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round able to combine a variety of different rounds into a single tank round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter, Army developers explained. The MPAT round has a two-position fuse, ground and air, that must be manually set, an Army statement said.
The M1028 Canister round is the third tank round being replaced. The Canister round was first introduced in 2005 by the Army to engage and defeat dismounted Infantry, specifically to defeat close-in human-wave assaults. Canister rounds disperse a wide-range of scattering small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality and, for example, destroy groups of individual enemy fighters.
The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.
AMP also provides two additional capabilities: defeat of enemy dismounts, especially enemy anti-tank guided missile, or ATMG, teams at a distance, and breaching walls in support of dismounted Infantry operations
A new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack.
Overall, these lethality and mobility upgrades represent the best effort by the Army to maximize effectiveness and lethality of its current Abrams tank platform. The idea is to leverage the best possible modernization upgrades able to integrate into the existing vehicle. Early conceptual discussion and planning is already underway to build models for a new future tank platform to emerge by the 2030s – stay with Scout Warrior for an upcoming report on this effort.
Active Protection Systems
As part of this broad effort to accelerate Abrams technological advancement into future decades, the Army is fast-tracking an emerging technology for Abrams tanks designed to give combat vehicles an opportunity to identify, track and destroy approaching enemy rocket-propelled grenades in a matter of milliseconds, service officials said.
“We are always looking for ways to enhance the protection provided on our combat vehicles and we recognize Active Protection Systems as one of our highest priorities towards this end,” Givens said.
Active Protection Systems, or APS, is a technology which uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs.
Systems of this kind have been in development for many years, however the rapid technological progress of enemy tank rounds, missiles and RPGs is leading the Army to more rapidly test and develop APS for its fleet of Abrams tanks.
The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program, an Army official told Scout Warrior.
As a child, Maj. Scotty Autin loved reading Marvel comic books. One of his favorite characters was Gambit, a fictional quick-handed, card-playing thief from New Orleans.
“Considering I’m from Louisiana, I was always drawn to Gambit,” said Autin, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District. “I read all the comics that featured him and watched the X-Men animated series just to see him. I remember as a 10-year-old, I would practice throwing playing cards just to be like him.”
So when Autin was invited to participate in “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” Jan. 30, 2019, at The Creative Life, or TCL, Chinese Theatre, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Prior and active-duty military service members with the Veterans in Media and Entertainment, Los Angeles; 311th Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Reserves, Los Angeles; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District; the 300th Army Band, Los Angeles; American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, California; and American Legion Post No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, pose for a picture prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
The event was a memorial tribute to Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics, who died in November 2018.
But it wasn’t just because Autin grew up reading Marvel comic books that made participating in the ceremony so important to him; it also was a way to honor Lee’s service to the nation as a fellow Army veteran.
Crowds start to gather Jan. 30, 2019, in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Lee was a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. While in the service, he started out as a lineman, before the Army realized his writing skills and moved him into technical writing for training manuals, films and posters with a group that included the likes of Oscar-winner Frank Capra and Pulitzer-winner William Saroyan. After the war, Lee returned to Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel, where he served as the editor and co-creator for decades.
He was proud of his military service, said Lee’s longtime friend, Karen Kraft, an award-winning television producer, Army veteran and the chairwoman of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment, or VME, Board of Directors.
An artist sketches a drawing of Marvel Comic creator Stan Lee with actor, producer and director Kevin Smith during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“He was very proud to have enlisted and was hoping to serve overseas, but his skill set was quickly discovered as a writer, illustrator and storyteller,” Kraft said.
Lee’s appreciation for his military service carried over to his civilian role at Marvel Comics, where it can be seen in the patriotic themes of “Captain America,” she said.
Paul Lilley, an Army veteran, actor, producer and member of Veterans in Media and Entertainment, center, helps fold a flag to present to “Agents of Mayhem” “Legion M” and “POW! Entertainment!” during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Organizers of the event, which included VME, wanted to ensure that piece of Lee’s life wasn’t lost during the tribute ceremony. So they organized a color guard. A bugler was brought in to play, “Taps.” An Army band was asked to perform. Autin brought American flags he had flown in Iraq on Veterans Day to present to Lee’s daughter, J.C., and the sponsors of the event. American Legion’s Post No. 43, Hollywood, and Post No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, got on board to help with a wreath-laying ceremony.
First encounter with Lee
Growing up in Rochester, New York, Kraft was drawn to the comic book creations of Lee.
She and her older brothers would go to the comic book store once a month, where she soon fell in love with Marvel Comics — the artwork, the words, the lettering, the coloring.
Jimmy Weldon, World War II veteran and a member of the American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, takes in all of the activities prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“No two comic books are the same,” she said. “It so captivates you that you don’t realize you’re reading a comic book. Your mind is filling in the gaps between the boxes and the pages because you’re so enthralled by it. That’s a power; that’s a storytelling magic.”
Kraft first met Lee at a comic book convention when she was young. After the convention and at the recommendation of her mother, Kraft wrote Lee a “thank you” letter, and he wrote a “thank you” letter back. From there, the two kept in touch, she said.
Later, when Kraft worked for the Discovery Channel, she interviewed Lee and other comic book talents for the documentary, “Marvel Superheroes Guide to New York City.” The documentary entailed traveling around New York City to the locations that inspired Lee and other comic book artists.
A military service member salutes the U.S. flag during the playing of “Taps” at “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
After she left Discovery Channel, Kraft worked with Lee on various projects. Their initial chance encounter and continued correspondence developed into a decades-long friendship.
In Kraft’s eyes, Lee had his own superpower — the ability to connect with people.
“Stan was marvelous in the use of his vocabulary and the way he created these characters you can relate to,” she said. “He created this entire world with all of these different artists … Every character he created is a co-creation. That’s also pretty stunning — including all of these people and inspiring all of that creativity from artists and writers.”
Jere Romano, post commander of the American Legion No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, left, along with his wife, Martha, place a wreath by a cement plaque of Marvel Comic book creator Stan Lee’s signature.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Lee was known for a process called the “Marvel Method,” a creative assembly-line style he used in comic book-making. Lee would write in the captions, another artist would sketch the scene, another would color it and a different artist would finish the lettering. Some credit Lee’s process to his Army experience, where everyone had a job, or Military Occupational Specialty.
Throughout the years, Kraft said, Lee always opened his home and office to her and allowed her to bring veterans over to visit, where he would share his World War II stories. The two both joined the American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, together and Lee became an advisory board member of VME.
Members of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment present a U.S. flag to a Legion M representative during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“He would talk to veterans about his military service … he loved to share his story,” she said. “His superpower is people. He’s extremely generous, very open with his time, very kind, very funny and very positive. And, he was very proud of his military service. We bonded over that.”
Crowds of people gather in the TCL Chinese Theatre Courtyard in Hollywood during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Kraft recalled one time when Lee spoke to about 300 military veterans with VME.
“I remember in the last meeting, he was very emotional when he said to the veterans in the audience, ‘You’re the real heroes in my world,'” she said. “It was very, very touching.”
A legion of fans
The tribute to Lee at the TCL Chinese Theatre was nothing short of honoring his legacy of bringing very diverse groups together. Directors, producers, military service members and veterans, artists, writers, comic book fans and celebrities packed the theatre courtyard on the day of the event.
The diversity of the crowd didn’t surprise Kraft, who said Lee made everyone feel like they were a part of his family.
A cosplayer dressed as Spiderman holds a single red rose while listening to friends and fellow colleagues of Marvel Comic book creator Stan Lee pay tribute to him during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
On a small stage on the left-hand side of the courtyard, a military color guard posted the flags, while a bugler played “Taps” in the background. Army band members played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Those who worked closely with Lee approached the microphone one-by-one to give testimonials of how he impacted their careers and their lives, including actor, director and producer Kevin Smith. A wreath was placed near a stone plaque engraved with Lee’s signature. Folded flags encased in wooden boxes were presented to the sponsors of the event, which included Agents of Mayhem, Legion M and POW! Entertainment. A flag was later presented to Lee’s daughter on the Red Carpet.
Following the courtyard tribute, celebrities, military members and others walked the Red Carpet leading inside the theatre, where celebrity panelists and others also paid tribute to Lee.
Actor, producer, writer and director Kevin Smith addresses the crowd to pay tribute to his friend, Stan Lee, during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
The diversity of the crowd, the presenters and the celebrities at the event spoke to Lee’s impact and reach across not only generations, but ethnic and social lines, Autin said.
“During the ceremony, I stood next to a gentleman who was about my age,” he said. “I was in my military dress uniform, and he was dressed as Mr. Fantastic (of the Fantastic Four). To the outside observer, that had no context of the situation, the sight would have looked like it was straight from a Marvel movie script. However, to us, we were both there to honor a man in our own way. The man that had an impact on us individually, as well as our entire generation.”
Lee loved a crowd and would have loved the ceremony and all of the military representation, Kraft said. He would have snapped off a smart salute to all of the men and women in their dress blues, said a quick-witted phrase, and there would be lots of hugging and smiles.
From left to right, actors Titus Welliver, Wesley Snipes, Laurence Fishburne and Bill Duke, along with a guest, pose for a picture on the Red Carpet during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“I’m proud that he touched so many lives and inspired so many people to come together,” Kraft said. “People with very different passions, but yet they all share this passion for super heroes — people pushing themselves beyond what they think possible to do what’s right and to be good in this world.”
For Kraft, looking up into the Hollywood Hills, it’s hard to imagine Lee not being there anymore, but she finds solace in his legacy and what he taught her — the power and importance of storytelling to human nature.
Maj. Scotty Autin, deputy commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, reflects in the background of a wreath honoring the late Marvel Comic legend Stan Lee during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“Every culture cherishes its legends, its myths, it’s identity through storytelling,” she said. “Storytelling done truly well really uplifts you … It helps carry you through tough times; it pushes you to do bigger and bolder things. His signature was ‘Excelsior,’ which in Latin means ‘upward to greater glory.’ It means keep pushing yourself, keep moving on, keep trying.”
“I think that’s the power of these superheroes that Stan Lee created,” Autin added. “They each speak to us directly for different reasons, they each show us that it’s OK to be flawed or struggling, but also push us to lean on our strengths and help others.”
The Defense Ministry said Oct. 3 in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency that the maneuvers involve over 60 Topol, Topol-M, and Yars missile launchers.
All those types of nuclear-tipped ICBMs are mounted on heavy trucks, making it more difficult for an enemy to spot and destroy them. The ministry said the drills are spread across vast area from the Tver region northwest of Moscow to the Irkutsk region in eastern Siberia.
The maneuvers follow massive war games conducted last month by Russia and Belarus that caused jitters in some NATO countries, including Poland and the Baltics.
The Russian military has intensified its combat training amid tensions with NATO over Ukraine.