Joseph Sroka isn’t just an investment specialist, he’s a military veteran and business owner with a passion to assist the veteran community. He is the Chief Investment Officer of NovaPoint Capital, a firm he co-founded, which provides investment management for individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations.
Before getting into the number crunching and chart watching of the investment world, Sroka served as an infantry officer in the Army. After graduating from West Point in 1988, he was stationed in Berlin, Germany and was witness to the iconic fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, and collapse of the Soviet Union. As a person who was inspired to serve by Ronald Reagan, seeing the end of the “Evil Empire” seemed like a good time for a career change.
“I grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and was in middle school during the Iran hostage crisis,” Sroka recalls. “President Reagan brought pride back to the country and the military. I was proud to serve.”
After earning his MBA, Sroka spent time working in equity research at investment banks, hedge funds, and asset management firms in Chicago, New York, and eventually Atlanta, the city he now calls home. The investment management industry has proven as lively as the military. Sroka was working at 4 World Financial Center, across the street from the World Trade Center, on 9/11 and helped evacuate his colleagues at Merrill Lynch from the building. He has also managed through the volatility of the markets during the 2008 financial crisis.
His deep experience in the industry helped him develop the tools he needed to go into business with his partner, Alan Conner. Together, they decided the goal of NovaPoint Capital was to provide individuals and institutions with disciplined and transparent investment management.
We’ve both seen the ugly side of the business over the years,” Alan explains, “Excessive fees and complicated investment products seem designed to benefit the investment firms and the brokers, rather than the clients. It is very satisfying to run a firm where we truly put the client first.
As a boutique firm, they offer an aspect that is often lost when dealing with larger firms: the opportunity to build a personal one-on-one relationship directly with their clients. This structure provides clients with direct access to the manager who is handling their money and not sales representatives or relationship managers who are twice or three-times removed from the actual investment.
They recognize that a lot of trust that comes with handling investments. NovaPoint seeks to provide all clients, large and small, with complete transparency in how their money is invested. They have used technology to simplify the process and give clients a window into what the team at NovaPoint is doing every day.
NovaPoint shows they are purposeful and disciplined when it comes to the strategies they put forth. Both owners understand discipline. Sroka as a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, Conner as an endurance athlete and three-time IRONMAN triathlon finisher. Conner sees “the discipline in our investment process as a simple extension of the discipline we have in our everyday lives.”
Being a veteran-owned business, NovaPoint understands the value the veteran community provides to the country’s economy and wants to encourage other veterans to pursue their investment and financial goals. To help veterans achieve these goals NovaPoint Capital takes a few proactive steps. They offer special discounts on standard fees as well as waiving minimum investment requirements for veterans. They extend these offers to include retirement plans for other veteran-owned businesses as well as non-profit organizations that serve the veteran community. Additionally, NovaPoint contributes one day of revenue every six months directly to veteran charities.
Beyond discounts and waived requirements, Sroka personally continues to serve veterans in his community by being a mentor through organizations like Veterati and FourBlock. “I am a huge believer that the current generation of transitioning veterans are going to be the leaders in the U.S. economy for decades to come,” Sroka said. He is also working to bring a Bunker Labs chapter to Atlanta to help military and veteran entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the area.
Russia held large-scale military exercises with troops from Belarus earlier this year, during which Moscow claimed more than 12,000 soldiers took part in a variety of drills in both countries.
The Zapad 2017 exercises fell short of many of the sinister elements observers thought they might include, but one aspect of the electronic-warfare component of the drills elicited surprise among NATO officials.
“The amount of jamming of their own troops surprised me. It was at a level we haven’t seen,” the chief of Estonia’s military intelligence, Col. Kaupo Rosin, told Defense News. “And they did it in the different branches, so land force, Air Force. That definitely surprised us.”
Rosin said Russia has an advantage in that its forces can switch to civilian electronic infrastructure within its own territory should their military electronic networks get jammed or become compromised.
“They tested [their own troops] to learn how to switch into their own cable network and not to emanate anymore, but to deal with the problem,” he said.
Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania, have warned about increasingly assertive Russian action along their shared borders. Estonia in particular has noticed increased Russian espionage activity.
The Russian special services are interested in both the collection of information and in influencing decisions important for Estonia. The Russian intelligence and security services conduct anti-Estonian influence operations, including psychological operations — in other words, influencing the defense forces and the general population of a potential enemy.
Rosin said NATO forces had a record of good communications, pointing to the bloc’s experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he noted that Russia is more capable than opponents faced in those countries, so NATO needs to look for new solutions and different ways to train its military leaders.
“We have to approach the problem as a complex problem — not just jamming, but also what other means can we use in order to disrupt the Russian communication system,” he told Defense News. “It probably includes some cyber activities.”
Baltic and British officials have said there is evidence of persistent Russian hacking efforts against European energy and telecommunications networks, as well as disinformation campaigns. Estonia itself hosted NATO’s biggest cyber-defense exercise this week, where “fictional scenarios [were] based on real threats,” a Estonian army officer said.
Rosin also said a foe with more robust electronic-warfare capabilities would require new ways of training officers to approach their commands. “If you have some limitations in communications, for example, how do you deal with that?” he said.
The military-intelligence chief cited Estonia’s military’s rapid troop call-up abilities and its relatively small size as potential advantages in a conflict, but, he added, communicating and coordinating with troops from other NATO members countries would complicate operations.
“When we are talking about the NATO command structure or different staff,” he told Defense News, “then I think the problem will kick in.”
NATO has itself assessed shortcomings in its command structure. An internal report seen by German news outlet Der Spiegal concluded that the alliance’s ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe had “atrophied” since the Cold War ended.
The report recommended forming two new command centers: One to oversee the shipment of personnel and supplies to Europe, and another to oversee logistics operations in Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in early November that the bloc’s defense ministers were set to approve a plan to create those commands.
Despite that change, Rosin said there remained operational and strategic challenges to NATO capabilities as well as questions about the bloc’s ability to deter threats.
Russia has advantages in time, personnel, and territory in which to operate, and Moscow would try to thwart a NATO military response, he said, noting vulnerabilities created by the Suwalki Gap and sea lines of communication.
“So the danger for us is if the Russians for some reason come to the conclusion that they might get away with some type of action in our region, then there is … [the possibility that they] might do some miscalculation and start something, which we don’t want,” he told Defense News. “In order to keep that under control, then our military posture must be adequate and the plans must be adequate. [Russia is asking]: Is really NATO coming to help or not?”
Russian action in Ukraine in 2014 and its continued involvement there — and NATO’s response to it — have been cause for concern in Eastern Europe, the Baltics in particular.
Earlier this year, Lithuania’s defense minister told The Guardian that his country was “taking very seriously” Russian threats to Batlic stability, drawing parallels between propaganda about Lithuania emanating from Moscow and events preceding Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
NATO has increased its troop and equipment deployment to the region in recent months to reassure allies there. (Lithuania has said it wants a permanent U.S. troop presence there.)
In June 2016, US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts practiced takeoffs and landings on an Estonian highway for the first time since 1984. Russian and NATO aircraft have also come into increasingly close contact in the skies over the Baltics in recent years.
Overall, Rosin said, NATO had improved is posture in relation to Russia. Asked about his 2015 comments that Moscow was playing hockey while everyone else was figure skating, he struck an optimistic tone.
“I’m not sure if we are in the same hockey league with the Russians. Definitely not yet,” he told Defense News. “We are in a good way, but there is a lot of room for improvement.”
Editor’s Note: Christopher Molaro is the Co-Founder/CEO of NeuroFlow. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.
I wish I could’ve saved my soldiers.
I was 22 years old when I became a platoon leader overseeing and taking care of 40 soldiers in combat in 2010. At the time, I had only done one tour — 12 months — in Iraq. But many of my soldiers had served four or five tours and had seen much more than I had.
Our job was to drive up and down the International Highway, which connected Kuwait to Iraq, and build relationships with local Iraqi police and sheiks. But we also had to check for improvised explosives, or IEDs.
We didn’t get all of them. In one case, before heading out on a mission, a U.S. envoy truck came careening into our base, half blown to hell and torn to shreds. In the back: three dead bodies. We had missed an IED.
There’s a lot of guilt in seeing something like that, and it can lead to a major symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder called survivor’s remorse. There is a wear on the brain and the body that goes into being in the military, especially for those deployed.
But were you ever to suggest talking to a therapist, you’d be hard-pressed to find many service members who would take you up on it. In the military, getting mental health treatment is viewed as a weakness — which, besides the negative stigma, is just plain wrong. There were soldiers who’d give therapy a try, only to leave after a single session and say, “I don’t feel better. I need to get back to the unit. I need to help out. This is an hour out of my time when I could be spending that with my family.”
And within a few years, there were people in my unit who had attempted suicide. It’s been seven years since I left Iraq, and in that time we’ve lost two people who were in my unit, one of whom I directly oversaw.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Molaro)
As a platoon leader, I viewed it as my responsibility to take care of our soldiers beyond getting the mission done. But with the news of the suicides came a sense that I had failed as their leader. It was my responsibility to take care of these guys, just like they took care of us.
After I retired from the military in 2015, I went to business school in Philadelphia. It had become my mission to find out how I could make our soldiers know that therapy could actually work for them, if only they would stick with it. Just as you wouldn’t return to your normal, daily routine after breaking an arm and undergoing one session with a physical therapist, neither should you expect to be fully recuperated after one session with a mental health professional.
But, I soon realized, to get soldiers into therapy and keep them there, they needed to see — physically, with their own eyes — the progress they were making.
I read up on research that showed how you can use EEG technology, which measures electrical activity in the brain, to also measure one’s emotions. That was when a light bulb just went off, like, “Holy shit, you could make mental health as black and white as a broken arm.”
That meant therapists could measure and track the progress of patients, objectively. And by doing so, they could fight that negative stigma and give people more hope.
So I developed NeuroFlow. The idea is simple: Give therapists a technology that uses basic and affordable medical supplies, like EEGs or heart rate monitors, to examine the health of their clients. That way, patients could see how their heart races — literally — in real time as they talk about something traumatic. And then, over the course of their sessions, they would be able to see their heart rate slow down and return to a more relaxed state as they healed.
This is my new mission: helping the veteran community. With 20 vets killing themselves in the U.S. every day, there is still a lot of work to be done. So I can’t quite say my mission is complete … yet.
This article originally appeared on NationSwell. Follow @NationSwell on Twitter.
A U.S. Air Force combat controller will receive the nation’s third highest award for valor for playing an essential role in two intense firefight missions against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.
Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, an airman with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing at Air Force Special Operations Command, will receive the Silver Star at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on Nov. 22, 2019, the service announced Nov. 18, 2019.
AFSOC spokeswoman 1st Lt. Alejandra Fontalvo said the award is for his total service during a 2018 deployment alongside an Army special forces team in support of the Resolute Support mission and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.
Serving as the sole joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, during a two-week long mission, Smith and the joint Army and Afghan teams were sent out to disperse Taliban forces that had created a stronghold in the Maymana village in northwest Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2018.
TSgt Cody Smith: Air Force Times Airman of the Year
En route to the area, the forces, which included Green Berets, lacked aerial cover due to poor weather conditions, but pressed on despite roadblocks and dozens of improvised explosive devices hidden within rubble along the path to slow their progress, according to Air Force Times.
The groups were immediately met with machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades when they got to the village.
Smith called in nearby AH-64 Apache helicopters, as well as F-16 Fighting Falcons that dropped “multiple precision guided 500-pound bombs engaging as close as 90 meters away,” Air Force officials said.
The firefight went on for nearly 10 hours.
Exactly one week later, pushing forward to Shirin Tagab just due north of Maymana, Smith and the teams were met by an overwhelming force — nearly 600 Taliban fighters amassing on the village’s southern flank. The fighters once again set up roadblocks and IEDs to slow the U.S. troops’ convoy before another fierce battle broke out — this time with mortars.
Smith told Air Force Times the scene turned to chaos as dozens of civilians ran up to the troops for help to save their children wounded in the firefight.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith.
(Air Force photo)
Smith tried to get medical aid all while protecting the convoy. First hit in his body armor, Smith kept firing.
Mortars rained down, and one exploded two meters away from his position, resulting in a severe concussion. When Smith awoke, he declined medical attention and fought for five more hours, Air Force Times reported, before an RPG hit his vehicle.
For a second time, he turned medics away to keep fighting, the paper said.
Smith called in 11 danger-close strikes amid the pandemonium during that Oct. 14 mission, resulting in 195 enemy fighters killed and 18 fighting positions destroyed. He aided in saving American and Afghan lives, and even helped medevac a wounded team member, Air Force Times said.
“[He] remained with his team for the 14-hour vehicle movement back to friendly lines to ensure their safety,” the Air Force said Monday.
The service has awarded 11 Air Force Crosses and 48 Silver Star Medals to Special Tactics airmen. Last year, President Donald Trump posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, also a combat controller, and promoted Chapman to master sergeant.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was known around the world as the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The two had been married since 1947. On April 9, 2021, at the age of 99, Prince Philip passed away.
Philip was born in Greece into the Mountbatten family. He was both a Prince of both Greece and Denmark. However, following the Greco-Turkish War, Philip’s family was forced to abdicate the throne and was exiled from the country when he was a baby.
Philip was educated in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In early 1939, he completed a term as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth before he repatriated to Greece for the summer. However, at the behest of Greece’s King George II, he returned to Britain in September and resumed Royal Navy training. The next year, Philip graduated from Dartmouth as the top cadet in his class. He was appointed a midshipman and served aboard ships protecting the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Indian Ocean. Following the invasion of Greece in October 1940, Philip transferred to the battleship HMS Valiant in the Mediterranean Fleet to protect his home country.
Following further schooling at Portsmouth, Philip was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in early 1941. He returned to the Mediterranean Fleet where he fought in numerous engagements including the the Battle of Crete and the Battle of Cape Matapan. Following the latter, Philip was mentioned in dispatches for his conspicuous service. During this time, he was also awarded the Greek War Cross.
In July 1942, Philip was promoted to lieutenant and participated in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During the invasion, Philip saved his ship from enemy bombers during a night attack with his quick thinking. As the planes approached, Philip concocted the idea to launch a raft with smoke floats as a distraction. The plan worked and HMS Wallace was able to slip away unnoticed. In October, Philip became the ship’s first lieutenant. At the age of 21, he was one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy.
In 1944, Philip transferred again to the Pacific Fleet where he served with the 27th Destroyer Flotilla. While serving aboard HMS Whelp, Philip participated in the Okinawa campaign. The British naval forces neutralized Japanese airfields on surrounding islands in support of the invasion. He also helped rescue down Royal Navy aviators Sub-Lieutenant Roy Halliday and Gunner Norman Richardson when their Grumman TBF Avenger went down over the ocean. Halliday went on to become Director-General Intelliegence in Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff from 1981-1984.
Philip was again part of history when HMS Whelp became the first allied ship to enter Sagami Bay on August 27, 1945, following V-J Day. The ship led the way for the battleships HMS Duke of York, USS Iowa, and USS Missouri. Philip was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal Japanese surrender on September 2. Two weeks later, HMS Whelp arrived in Hong Kong to accept the surrender of Japanese forces there as well. After the war, Philip served as an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur, the Petty Officers’ School in Corsham Wiltshire.
Philip met the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1939. The Royal Family toured Dartmouth and Philip was asked to escort the King’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth fell in love with Philip and the two began exchanging letters. In the summer of 1946, Philip asked King George VI for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. The King agreed on the condition that the engagement be announced the following year after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday. The engagement was publicly announced in July 1947 and the two were wed on November 20 that same year. Their marriage is the longest of any British monarch. Philip left active naval service at the rank of commander when Elizabeth became queen in 1952.
With Philip’s passing, Buckingham Palace has announced the start of Operation Forth Bridge, the plan for the prince’s funeral. Although his death has made headlines around the world, Philip was insistent that his passing be met with minimal “fuss.” The plans, which had been previously drawn up, have since been modified to adhere to the country’s COVID mitigation policies. Philip would have turned 100 in June.
The suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks that killed 129 people was killed in a massive police raid north of Paris Wednesday.
The raid was conducted by over 100 police officers and soldiers who rushed into an apartment building in Saint-Denis and attacked the apartment at 4:16 a.m., according to the Washington Post. The reinforced door stayed close, triggering a seven-hour siege.
“Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave… despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies,” he told Dabiq, an ISIS magazine.
“All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence,” he added. “My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”
Apparently, Abaaoud’s luck ran out. Abaaoud’s cousin also died in the raid when she detonated a suicide device, according to Fox News.
The raid came after French police received a tip from a waiter. The raid was part of a larger effort to prevent a potential follow-up attack aimed at Paris’s financial district, French officials told The Washington Post.
One police dog was killed in the raid, a 7-year-old named Diesel.
France’s military and police forces were already fighting the international terror organization before Friday’s Paris attacks, but have launched an increased number of police raids and military airstrikes since they suffered the worst attack on their territory since World War II.
From Nov.7 to Nov. 10, over the span of 65 total hours, 58,318 names were read aloud and given life once again. More than 2,000 volunteers traveled from as far away as Alaska to participate in the “Reading of the Names” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A stage with two spotlights was placed right in front of the wall. A podium stood at center stage. Every two minutes, a volunteer walked up to the podium and read a list of names.
Despite downpours and cold weather each night, people continued to read the names. Many volunteers showed up without having a reserved place in the order and helped fill in the gaps to ensure the reading never paused.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the event on [the night of Nov. 9]. The air was misty and chilly, and there were only 30 or so people around at any given time. A few people sat in chairs in front of the stage to listen. Several people pass by to look at the memorial. There’s a handful standing in line waiting for their turn to read. Everyone is there to pay their respects to the fallen.
As I stood in line waiting for my turn, I listened to the others. The more I listened, the harder it was to keep my eyes dry. One woman preceded a name with “my father” and choked up as she read his name. A gentleman that followed her struggled to get through some of the names of his comrades. Every name means something to somebody somewhere. Each name represents service and sacrifice.
The first “Reading of the Names” occurred at the National Cathedral when the memorial was dedicated in November 1982. This year marked the 35th anniversary of the memorial and a reading of the names has been held every five years.
Thank you to everyone that participated in this important event. Stay up to date with news and events happening at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by following the Vietnam Veterans Memorial fund at http://www.vvmf.org.
U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the establishment of a space command that will oversee the country’s military operations in space.
Trump signed the one-page memorandum on Dec. 18, 2018, directing the Department of Defense to create the new command to oversee and organize space operations, accelerate technical advances, and find more effective ways to defend U.S. assets in space, including satellites.
The move comes amid growing concerns that China and Russia are working on ways to disrupt, disable, or even destroy satellites on which U.S. forces rely for navigation, communications, and surveillance.
The new command is separate from Trump’s goal to create an independent space force, but could be a step in that direction.
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence said: “A new era of American national security in space begins today.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Codie Collins)
Space Command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military, Pence said, adding that it will “develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that will enable our war fighters to defend our nation in this new era.”
It will be the Pentagon’s 11th combatant command, along with well-known commands such as Central Command and Europe Command.
Space Command will pull about 600 staff from existing military space offices, and then add at least another 1,000 over the coming years, the Associated Press quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying.
Its funding will be included in the budget for fiscal year 2020.
Everyone has heard the phrase “cash is king” but that’s not always the case when troops are deployed overseas.
When service members deploy to remote areas, they enter a barter economy where cash loses value since there is nearly nowhere to spend it. But a shortage of consumer goods drives up the value of many commodities.
Some troops — call them blue falcons or businessmen — will stockpile these commodities for a profit.
Among vets, even non-smokers stockpile cigarettes. They’re easy to trade, hold their value for weeks, and are always in demand. Plus, sellers can reap great profits after patrols. A smoker who lost their cigarettes in a river is not going to haggle the price down if they won’t reach a store for days.
Similar to cigarettes, the addictive nature of dip means it’s always in demand. Dip is slightly harder than cigarettes to trade since users can’t easily break a can into smaller units. But, since troops can’t always smoke on patrol and smoking in government buildings is prohibited, dipping is sometimes the better method of nicotine consumption.
3. Energy drinks (especially “rare” ones)
Part of the reason tobacco is so popular is that it’s a stimulant, something that is desperately needed on deployments. Energy drinks are the other main stimulant that is widely traded. They have different value tiers though.
Drinks the military provides, like Rip-Its, are worth less since they’re easy to get. Monsters are generally available for purchase on large bases. So, they’re are easy to trade but still command high value. Foreign-made drinks, which pack a great kick, can sometimes be found in the local economy and demand the greatest price.
4. Beef jerky
High in protein and salt, jerky is great for marches and patrols. It’s easy to carry and shelf-stable. Troops can trade individual pieces if they want to buy something cheap or use whole bags for large purchases.
5. “Surplus” gear
Every time a unit does inventory, someone is missing something. But, service members with lots of extra cigarettes can always buy someone’s “surplus” gear to replace what they’re missing. Prices vary, of course. Missing earplugs are cheap, but eye protection is expensive.
The only things that can’t be purchased are those tracked by serial number. Replacing something with a serial number requires help from the E-4 mafia.
6. Hard drives (the contents)
Nearly everyone deployed has a computer drive with TV episodes and movies from back home. Old movies are traded for free, but getting new stuff requires the rare dependable internet connection or a care package with DVDs. Those who have digital gold will share new shows in exchange for other items or favors.
7. Electrical outlets
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Johann H. Addicks
These work on a subscription basis. In many tents, there are only a few outlets hooked up to the generator. So, entrepreneurs snatch up real estate with an outlet, buy a power strip, and sell electrical access. The proliferation of portable solar panels is cutting down on this practice.
8. Lighters and matches
Matches are distributed in some MREs, but not as much as they used to be. Lighters are available for purchase at most bases. Still, service members at far-flung outposts are sometimes hurting for ways to light their tobacco. Smart shoppers save up their matches and buy up Bics while near base exchanges, then sell them in outlying areas.
9. Girl Scout cookies
Girl Scout cookies come in waves. Every few weeks, boxes will show up in every office on a forward operating base. Resupply convoys will grab dozens to take out to their troops in the field. But, as the days tick by, inventories will wane. This is especially true of top types like Caramel deLites and Thin Mints.
The trick is to store the boxes after the delivery comes in, and then trade them for needed items when everyone else has run dry. A box of Tagalongs can wrangle a trader two cans of dip if they time it right.
A Russian-born American has been captured in Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. These anti-ISIS fighters have captured thousands of defeated Islamic State militants in the country since the fall of its de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017. To them, this is just one more ISIS prisoner.
They have returned the captured American to U.S. troops in the country and now he will stand trial in the United States.
This is not the first instance of Americans who left to join the terrorist state being captured and repatriated to the United States. Two American women and four children have also been captured and returned to the U.S. since the American intervention in the fight against the Islamic State began.
Thousands of ISIS-affiliated persons have been captured in the former “caliphate.”
The SDF in Syria is a force of American-trained and supported fighters, primarily of Kurdish origin. They have captured thousands of ISIS fighters since the fall of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and returned many to their countries of origin to face punishment. Most of those returnees come from Europe, who struggles with repatriating the fighters and even with prosecuting them. While the United States stands ready to prosecute the fighter, European countries differ on how to handle returnees.
When the U.S. first started planning for the return of captured fighters, the Trump Administration originally planned to incarcerate them at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Instead, Trump is sending returning ISIS-affiliated repatriates to the civilian court system. In June 2019, American-born wives and children of ISIS fighters were captured by the SDF and returned to the U.S.
The status of ISIS-born children is an emerging controversy.
Those affiliated with the Islamic State but aren’t accepted by their former country of citizenship are more likely to be held in vastly overcrowded prison camps in Syria or held in government jails. European countries are refusing the fighters because their justice systems would require gathering sufficient evidence of wartime crimes (being a member of ISIS isn’t enough to secure a conviction), and if tried, there’s a chance the ISIS fighters could walk free. The United States isn’t facing a huge influx of returning fighters but has a different standard of proof.
In the meantime, much effort is expended by all armed forces in the region in returning families of Islamic State fighters to their countries of origin, many coming from nearby Iraq or far-flung places as far as China and Uzbekistan. As the SDF finishes eliminating pockets of ISIS resistance, they are sure to find more and more survivors to send home, wherever home once was.
Army Spc. Charles Choi, 32, originally from South Korea, has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in statistics from Cornell University. He has education and skills that make him a highly valued prospect for the military, but he hasn’t made it to Basic Combat Training after signing up with the Army Reserve.
He has been waiting for two years.
Yes, I’m in limbo,” Choi said in an interview with Military.com. “I’m still waiting for the security clearance to be completed.”
Choi is one of several non-citizen enlistees who joined the military through the Military Accessions Vital To National Interest program, and spoke with Military.com about how they’ve been stuck waiting months or years for clearances and security screenings to process.
The program, created to attract those with highly sought skills for military service, has been essentially suspended amid political battles over immigration policy. Of the estimated 10,400 troops who have signed up to serve through MAVNI since 2008, more than 1,000 now face uncertain futures. Some can’t risk the wait.
For Choi, that’s especially true.
“Delays are so long and we have a finite length to our visas and that’s where the real problem comes in,” he said.
His visa will expire in less than a year.
“So if they just keep us in limbo and if we run out of visa status, then we cannot work or drive,” he said. “It’s a very screwed-up situation.”
The complex history of MAVNI
In 2012, well before MAVNI fell victim to the nation’s ever-shifting immigration policies, then-Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno invited Sgt. Saral Shrestha to his Pentagon office for a photo op and a congratulatory grip-and-greet. Shrestha, who was born in Nepal, had just won the Army’s “Best Warrior” competition.
Shrestha, who earned citizenship through MAVNI, was honored later that year at the annual Association of the U.S. Army’s convention as the “Soldier of the Year.”
(U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade)
Shrestha’s motto is “Mission first, soldiers always.” He said that “MAVNI was a blessing” in his progress from student visa to the Army and then to taking the oath as a citizen.
In March 2018, Army Sgt. Santosh Kachhepati, a combat medic with the 62nd Medical Brigade with two tours in Afghanistan, was selected for the Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2. He will begin his studies to become a doctor at George Mason University in Virginia in the fall.
“I consider this opportunity to be an Army physician an honor and a privilege to serve the medical needs of our soldiers who risk their lives protecting this nation,” Kachhepati said, according to a release from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
JBLM said that Kachhepati, also from Nepal, “came to the United States to attend college at the University of Texas at Arlington. He graduated U.T.’s Nursing Program with Honors in 2013.”
“He enlisted in Army in 2014 through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which allows certain qualified non-citizens to enlist in the U.S. military and thereby gain eligibility for U.S. citizenship,” JBLM said.
MAVNI began in 2008 as a one-year pilot program with the goal with the goal of bringing in non-citizen recruits with language or medical skills for the nation’s counterinsurgency wars and giving them a fast track to citizenship in return.
Adm. Eric Olson, then-commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the time that MAVNI recruits were “operationally critical” to the military’s needs. But the program from the onset was caught up in political immigration debates and the high command’s security concerns.
The program was suspended in 2009 over fears of insider threats in the ranks when Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, a psychiatrist born in the U.S., shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5 of that year.
The restrictions were lifted again in 2012, shortly after Shrestha won the “Soldier of the Year” award. Since then, MAVNI recruits have performed higher on entrance tests and had lower attrition rates than native-born troops, according to military data. But the program reached a turning point in September 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Cain Claxton)
The beginning of the end for MAVNI came in the form of a September 2016 memo to the service secretaries from Peter Levine, then the acting under secretary for personnel and readiness.
Levine said that the MAVNI pilot program “is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2016.”
As it turned out, that wasn’t quite so.
In the same memo, Levine said that “changes in the enclosed guidance will strengthen and improve the execution of the MAVNI program.”
He said that for MAVNI in the coming year, “the maximum number of accessions will be: Army — 1,200; Navy — 65; Marine Corps — 65; and Air Force — 70.”
Despite the language suggesting the program’s continuation, Pentagon spokespeople said the program was effectively allowed to end October 2017, when tighter screening procedures were put in place for MAVNI recruits who had already signed up.
Mattis looks to save MAVNI
In a memo in July 2017, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pentagon personnel and intelligence officials warned of the “espionage potential” from foreign-born recruits.
“While the Department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization,” the memo said.
Foreign-born recruits would have to “complete a background investigation and receive a favorable military security suitability determination prior to entry in the active, reserve, or Guard service,” the memo said. “Those in the MAVNI program and other foreign-born recruits may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.”
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
However, Mattis, in a session with defense reporters in October 2017, said he was looking for ways to keep MAVNI alive despite the 2016 Levine memo that had again suspended the program.
“We are taking the steps obviously to save the program, if it can be saved,” Mattis said. “And I believe it can.”
In January 2018, on board his plane en route to Vietnam, Mattis held out the possibility that MAVNI could be renewed once enhanced vetting procedures were ironed out.
Mattis said that an internal examination had found that procedures were lax in screening MAVNI recruits.
“We were not keeping pace with our usual standard,” he said.
“We’ve got to look people’s backgrounds, and if you have a lot of family members in certain countries, then you come under additional scrutiny,” he added. “Until we can get them screened, we can’t bring in more.
“You’ve got to be able to screen them as they come in, rather than get them in and then you send them off to a unit and they say, ‘By the way, they don’t have security clearance yet.’ And then they say, ‘Well, thanks very much, but I can’t use them.’
“So it’s simply a matter of aligning the process, the recruiting process with the usual screening process,” Mattis continued. “There’s nothing more to it.”
Don’t go climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
The changes in the rules since 2016 have left more than 1,000 recruits already accepted into the military in a state of bureaucratic limbo with time running out on their visas while they await security clearances.
Choi, the Korean Army specialist, described filling out a form that required him to list his travel to foreign countries over the last seven years. He didn’t list a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which had occurred more than seven years before he filled out the form.
Six months later, an Army investigator gave him a call. They had found out about the trip to Tanzania and needed some “points of clarification,” Choi said. “The way they do it is just really not organized at all. It’s kind of clear this was made up on the fly.”
Choi said his battalion commander has urged him to look at the possibility of attending Officer Candidate School.
Army Reserve Pfc. Alan Huanyu Liang, 24, is also caught up in the same screening logjam while waiting to report to BCT. He was born in China, has been living in the U.S. for six years and has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles.
He signed his contract under the MAVNI program in May 2016.
“Since then, my life has been drastically changed by this program,” he told Military.com. “From the day I signed my contract, I have been eagerly waiting for my ship day [to BCT].”
(U.S. Navy photo by Scott Thornbloom)
Now, he said, it has been almost two years and no progress has been made since he signed his contract.
“I have been drilling every month since I was in-processed into my unit, and I witnessed people coming later to the unit than I did get shipped and came back with a uniform,” he said. “I really, really envy them. I wish one day I can be in that uniform and serve like a real soldier. I keep asking my recruiter and all I am told is to wait.”
Another MAVNI recruit, who didn’t want her name used, told Military.com that she has been at a training base for two years after completing BCT while awaiting additional screening that would let her go to AIT, or Advanced Individual Training.
In the meantime, she does paperwork.
“You need the favorable adjudication [Military Service Suitability Determination] to go to AIT,” she said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I am still motivated by the idea of serving.”
Lawyer who built MAVNI pushes to save it
“There’s an epic bureaucratic fight going on,” said Margaret Stock, a lawyer and former Army lieutenant colonel who was instrumental in planning and initiating the MAVNI program while still in the service.
“It’s an appalling example of bureaucratic incompetence,” she said of the efforts to kill the MAVNI program and subject those who have already signed up to endless screening.
“They’re saying the MAVNIs are some kind of security threat,” Stock told Military.com, but “there is no specific threat” that justify strictures that would kill a program that has already proven its worth.
“They pose the same threat that U.S. citizens would,” said Stock, the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship.
To meet a range of emerging threats, “we need these people,” she said. “What we don’t need is people sitting on a base for 18 months doing nothing because of background checks.”
When people ask Chris Insco what he does, his answer is, “I basically stop time.”
Insco, Yuma Proving Ground’s High-speed Section Chief, goes on to explain, “Our cameras and the high-speed process we use range from 1,000 frames per second (fps) up to 10,000 fps but these cameras have the ability to take up to one-million fps which is basically a camera taking a million frames in one second.”
Watching the video captured by the high-speed section is like a scene of the Matrix movie, you can see each and every twist and turn the projectile makes. These cameras are so rapid you can see sound moving through the air, they can capture a sound wave in a photograph.
“We slow things down for the customer to allow them to see what they cannot see with the naked eye” says Insco.
Capturing the high-speed video for a test at YPG entails a lot more than simply setting up a camera and walking away. The technology behind these ultrahigh-speed video cameras demands an entire network to run their programs and entails detailed planning and setup.
(Photo by Ana Henderson)
Capturing the high-speed video for a test at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) entails a lot more than simply setting up a camera and walking away. The technology behind these ultrahigh-speed video cameras demands an entire network to run their programs and entails detailed planning and setup. Weeks before a test the crew talk the test officer (TO) to better understand the needs of the customer. From there the senior technicians plan the logistics, this includes deciding on the type of camera, working with Geodetics for assistance with camera placement and setting up generators to keep the cameras running.
Then comes the networking of the cameras which are ran on a local area network. High-speed technicians work with Network Enterprise Center (NEC) range communication to confirm if the test location on the Cibola or Kofa side of the range has the network capability required to run their computer systems. Depending on the location the high-speed technicians will set up the network other times NEC will set up the network.
The coverage of video depends of the type of test, some of the camera angles include, behind the gun, muzzle exit, and impact. Insco explains, “Sometimes it is gun coverage, sometimes it is impact coverage. With the impact coverage it depends on what the TO wants. We had one test where they had 10 different scenarios. As soon as they fired one we had to pick up all that equipment and move it to another scenario.” Adding “It’s a lot of logistics that our senior technicians learn through experience and time out here.”
“Our cameras and the high-speed process we use range from 1,000 frames per second (fps) up to 10,000 fps but these cameras have the ability to take up to one-million fps which is basically a camera taking a million frames in one second” explains High-speed Section Chief, Chris Insco.
(YPG archive highspeed photo)
A test requiring high-speed video coverage can require anywhere from two to nine technicians “One of our largest test, I think we had 20 camera systems on one test.”
One high-speed system popular with the TO is the trajectory tracker, “Those can cover from the end of the muzzle to out to usually it is 100-meters but we have tracked them out to 200-meters at time” explains Insco.
The trajectory tracker uses an algorithm to capture the projectile in motion. The high-speed technician will input coordinates and other information given by the TO into the computer software which controls the tracker and a mirror. When a round is fired, the mirror moves and the camera captures images from the mirror. Using the trajectory tracker is equivalent to using 10 cameras.
Another angle is static and moving impacts, “Target systems sets up a tank that is remote controlled and we actually chase it with pan and tilts that we control from a remote location. We can actually follow the vehicle through that course.”
Behind each camera set up on a test, is a high-speed technician who is monitoring it via a live video feed shown on a camera controller (lab top) from inside a support test vehicle.
Behind each camera set up on a test, is a high-speed technician who is monitoring it via a live video feed shown on a camera controller from inside a support test vehicle. Sean Mynster, high-speed video test lead (right) and Steven Mowery, high-speed technician (left) are shown monitoring a test site.
(Photo by Ana Henderson)
Sean Mynster, high-speed video test lead and Steven Mowery, high-speed technician were recently on a test. They monitored the test site and communicated with the TO via hand-held radios to ensure they captured the firing of the projectile.
Mowery explains, “This is the software that operates the camera, we can adjust our shutter, our resolution, our frame rate, it is also the software that arms the camera. We arm-up about 10 seconds out. When we do arm them up, they run on a loop recording so we will have pre and post frames. We will have 200 frames before and 200 frames after that way if a mishap happens and we have an early trigger we will capture it.”
Mishaps do happen because YPG is a testing center, and Insco says that’s when their video become most important, “We can shoot thousands of mortars a day, and if everything is good we just archive it. But we will have that one where a fuze will pop-off, or the round malfunctions outside of the tube and we capture it on video that’s when the customers get really excited about what we capture.”
During fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30, 2018, the US Coast Guard intercepted just over 458,000 pounds of cocaine. That was the second most in a year on record, behind fiscal year 2017, when 493,000 pounds were seized, which topped the previous record of 443,000 pounds in fiscal year 2016.
“The Coast Guard has interdicted more than … 1.3 million pounds of illicit cocaine in the last three years, and that rolls up to be about $18 billion of wholesale value on American streets,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Nov. 15, 2018, aboard the cutter James, which was offloading nearly 38,000 pounds of cocaine seized in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The pursuit of traffickers on the high seas, working with other US agencies and international partners, was part of what Schultz described as a “push-out-the-border strategy” to target the smuggling process at the point when the loads were the largest and most vulnerable.
US Coast Guardsmen board a narco sub as part of a drug seizure in early September 2016.
(US Coast Guard photo)
“We’re pushing our land border 1,500 miles deep into the ocean here a little bit, and that’s where we find the success taking large loads of cocaine down at sea,” Shultz said aboard the James, which seized more than 19,000 pounds of the cocaine offloaded on Nov. 15, 2018.
“When we take down drugs at sea it reduces the violence. It maximizes the impact. When these loads land in Mexico, in Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, they get distributed into very small loads, very hard to detect, and there’s associated violence,” he added.
But the Coast Guard can see much more than it can catch.
In the eastern Pacific Ocean, where about 85% of the cocaine smuggling between South America and the US takes place, “We have visibility on about 85% of that activity,” Schultz said. “Because of the capacity — the number of ships, the number of aircraft — [we act on] about 25% to 30% of that,” he added.
A suspected smuggler, who jumped from his burning vessel, is pulled aboard an interceptor boat from the USS Zephyr by members of the US Coast Guard and Navy in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean on April 7, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo)
Schultz is not the first Coast Guard official to note the gap between what the service can see and what it can stop.
In September 2017, Adm. Charles Ray told senators that the service has “good intelligence on between 80% and 90% of these movements,” referring to trafficking in the eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean.
But “we only have the capacity to get after about 30% of those” shipments, added Ray, who is now the Coast Guard’s vice commandant.
The eastern Pacific Ocean from the west coast of South America to the Galapagos Islands and up to waters off western Mexico and the southwest US is an area about the size of the continental US, Ray said.
“On any given day we’ll have between six to 10 Coast Guard cutters down here,” he added. “If you imagine placing that on [an area the size of] the United States … it’s a capacity challenge.”
Schultz’s predecessor, now-retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, noted a similar gap.
The Coast Guard provides the “biggest bang for the buck,” Zukunft told The New York Times in summer 2017. “But our resources are limited.”
“As a result, we can’t catch all the drug smuggling we know about,” Zukunft added. “Just last year we had intelligence on nearly 580 possible shipments but couldn’t go intercept them because we didn’t have the ships or planes to go after them.”
Schultz acknowledged that with more resources the Coast Guard could stop more, but said the service was getting the most out of its assets and its partners — including the Defense and Homeland Security departments and other countries in the region.
“We have DoD support, we have partner-nation contributions … so it’s that team sport, but there is a conversation about capacity,” Schultz said. “More Coast Guard capability, more enablers like long-range surveillance airplanes and … we’d take more drugs off the water.”
“What I’m proud about is we’re putting every ounce of energy we’ve got into this fight.”
The Coast Guard cutter James interdicts a low-profile vessel in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 22, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo)
Booming cocaine production in Colombia has kept a steady flow of drugs heading north. Smugglers use a variety of vessels, from simple outboard boats to commercial fishing vessels. The more frequent appearance of low-profile vessels, often called narco subs, points to traffickers’ increasing sophistication.
The Coast Guard has said it caught a record six narco subs in fiscal year 2016, which ended in September 2016. In September 2017, the service said it had seen a “resurgence” of such vessels, catching seven of them since June that year.
“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels; 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Schultz told Business Insider in 2018.
Narco subs can cost id=”listicle-2620799501″ million to million but can carry multiton loads of cocaine worth tens of millions of dollars in the US.
Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, estimated Colombian traffickers were building 100 narco subs a year and said the DEA believed at least 30% to 40% of drugs coming to the US were moving on those vessels, but authorities were likely only intercepting 5% of them.
A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America, July 19, 2015.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)
The Coast Guard’s own estimate indicates that it can block only a sliver of the narcotics coming to the US by sea.
Asked what was needed to address the flow of narcotics, Ray in late 2017 pointed to the offshore-patrol-cutter program, which the Coast Guard has said will bridge the gap between national-security cutters like the James, which patrol open ocean, and fast-response cutters, which patrol closer to shore.
The first offshore-patrol cutter isn’t scheduled to be delivered until 2021.
Coast Guard officials have touted the capabilities of national-security cutters, like the James, which were introduced in 2008 and of which six are in service.
But the other cutters that seized drugs offloaded by the James on Nov. 15, 2018, were, on average, 41 years old, “and are increasingly more difficult to maintain and more costly to operate” Claire Grady, the Homeland Security Department’s chief of management, said on Nov. 15, 2018.
“For the Coast Guard to remain always ready to combat transnational crime and conduct its 10 other statutory missions,” Grady added, “it’s imperative to recapitalize its aging fleet.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.