Smoking cigarettes has been a popular pastime among troops since the very first line formed at the armory. Everybody, both civilian and service member alike, has their reason for smoking, but one thing is consistent between the two crowds — flipping one cigarette upside down and saving it for last.
This last cigarette is referred to as the “lucky cigarette” and it’s considered bad luck to smoke it before the others in the pack. People all over the internet have speculated at the origin of this superstition, but it’s very likely that it all started with troops in WWII — and the Lucky Strike brand cigarettes they used to get in their rations.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why your veteran friend saves a single, specific cig for last, here are the best explanations we’ve found:
(U.S. Marine Corps)
World War II
In WWII, troops would get Lucky Strike cigarettes in their rations and each cigarette was stamped with the brand’s logo. It’s believed that those fighting either in Europe or the Pacific would flip every cigarette in the pack except for one. That way, when a troop sparked one, they’d burn the stamp first (this was before the days of filtered cigarettes).
That way, if a troop had to drop the cigarette for any reason, the enemy couldn’t quickly determine the country of origin — any identifying mark was quickly turned to ash. The last cigarette was the only exception — and if you survived long enough to smoke it, you were considered lucky.
U.S. Marine Corps LVTP-5 amphibious tractors transport 3rd Marine Division troops in Vietnam, 1966.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Some swear that this tradition comes from the Vietnam War.
By this point, filtered cigarettes were becoming the norm, so you could only smoke ’em one way. Still, the tradition remained largely intact. Instead of flipping every cigarette on end, troops would invert a single one and, just as before, if you lived long enough to smoke it, you were a lucky joe.
Hopefully you can quit when you get out.
In either case, having a “lucky cigarette” in your pack has since become a universal superstition.
Whether you’re in the military or not, flipping that one cigarette is considered good luck, even when your life isn’t in immediate danger.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) had what one report described as a “close encounter” with an Iranian vessel on April 24.
According to a report by Fox News, the Iranian vessel was a “fast attack craft” used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. USS Mahan was forced to change course, the crew manned weapons, fired flares, and sounded a danger signal. The Iranian vessel stayed over 1,000 yards from the Mahan, but its weapons were manned.
According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Iran has over 100 “fast attack craft” of varying types. The most notorious of these are roughly 30 Boghammers, which can reach speeds of up to 45 knots, and are armed with .50-caliber machine guns or twin 23mm anti-aircraft guns and either a 12-round 107mm rocket launcher, a 106mm recoilless rifle, or a RPG-7. American forces destroyed at least five of these vessels during naval clashes with Iran in 1987 and 1988.
This is not the first time USS Mahan has had a close call with Iranian vessels. In January, 2017, the Mahan had to fire warning shots at similar craft that came within 900 yards. The Iranian vessels backed off.
“We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” said Votel, citing Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”
Four speedboats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week. The incident comes a month after Iranian officials talked tough about closing the maritime chokepoint if Iran was attacked.
According to a report from FoxNews.com, at least two of the speedboats came within 300 yards of the destroyer. The Nitze reportedly tried to communicate with the Iranian vessels a dozen times but received no response before the close pass. The destroyer fired warning flares and sounded its whistle five times in an effort to warn off the Iranian vessels, which approached with uncovered weapons. The speedboats in question appeared to have heavy machine guns mounted forward, and had them turned towards the destroyer.
“The Iranian high rate of closure on a United States ship operating in accordance with international law while transiting in international waters along with the disregard of multiple warning attempts created a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation including additional defensive measures by Nitze,” an unidentified defense official told USNI’s blog.
The guided missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87), a sister ship of the Nitze, was also making a transit of the Strait of Hormuz during the incident. The two 9,200-ton vessels are Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, with a single five-inch gun, a 32-cell Mk 41 VLS, a 64-cell VLS, a Mk 15 Close-In Weapon System, and two triple 324mm torpedo tube mounts.
The IRGC has been involved in past incidents, including the 2015 seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged merchant vessel and the temporary detention of U.S. Navy sailors who strayed into Iranian waters this past January. That force also was involved in incidents in December 2007 and January 2008 where U.S. Navy ships were harassed in a similar manner during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz.
It’s a well-known fact that the United States and the Taliban are at the negotiating table, hammering out the groundwork for peace after some 18 years of constant conflict. The U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorist fighters the Taliban refused to give up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on American soil.
The Taliban swears it would never again harbor terrorists.
In 2001, the Taliban were the recognized rulers of Afghanistan and had been since the early 1990s – for better or for worse. Until that point, the worst crimes committed by the Taliban were on Afghanistan’s female population and the cultural history of the region. During that ten-year span, Osama bin Laden and his followers established bases and training camps in the Taliban’s backyard, and the Afghan rulers did little about it. After Sept. 11, the United States began bombing the country in earnest.
Afghanistan’s leadership demanded evidence of bin Laden’s guilt while demanding the United States stop bombing their country. Then-President George W. Bush said the bombing was non-negotiable until the Taliban handed over the terrorist leader. The Taliban refused, but that didn’t matter – U.S. special operators were already in the country by that time. The rest is history.
Nearly two decades later, Zalmay Khalilzad an Afghan-American diplomat who represents the United States at the negotiating table, is content with the Taliban’s assertion that they would never allow Afghanistan to return to its former status as a “hotbed” for international terrorism.
“The world needs to be sure that Afghanistan will not be a threat to the international community,” said Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. “We are satisfied with the commitment that we have received on counterterrorism.”
Not everyone agrees, including U.S. lawmakers, Afghan government officials, and even the UN Security Council who, as late as 2018, declared that al-Qaeda militants were still very much embedded within the Taliban command structure, along with other terror groups, operating forces numbering into the thousands.
For Khalilzad, the U.S. military’s withdrawal can only be linked to the promises of the Taliban. The Taliban promised the counterterrorism guarantees will be written into its laws as soon as the United States leaves Afghanistan. The State Department is also working on ways to verify Taliban compliance with the agreement.
Defense officials at the Pentagon say they need up to $500 million more to finish the development phase for the F-35, the troubled fifth-generation fighter that’s already gone 50% over its original budget.
Its overall lifetime budget has ballooned to more than $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapons system ever built by the US.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has in the past called those cost overruns a “disgrace.”
“It has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance,” he said in April.
Rising costs haven’t been the only problem of note for the F-35. The jet has had plenty of incidents while being built, such as electrical problems, major issues with its software, and problems related to its advanced helmet system.
Just four months ago, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester wrote in a memo the F-35 program was “not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver.”
Still, the Air Force and Marines have both declared the fighter “combat ready” and have begun integrating it into their squadrons. The military has only taken delivery of about 180 of the aircraft from Lockheed Martin so far, though it plans to buy more than 2,400.
The fighter, which features stealth and advanced electronic attack and communications systems, is a project with roots going back to the late 1990s. Lockheed won the contract for the fighter in 2001.
“Strong national security is an expensive endeavor but the existing concerns with the F-35 make calls for even more money harder to green light,” said Joe Kaspar, chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“And the Pentagon never seems to be able to help its case on the F-35. Technical superiority is not cheap, but whether or not costs can be driven down is something Congress must look at it before throwing more money in the Pentagon’s direction.”
Following the rulebook isn’t always a necessity. Well, that’s how the Marine Corps infantry feels about doctrine, anyway. Sure, there are hundreds of people who put their great minds together to come up with standard procedures for everything relating to warfare, but even still, us grunts take those “procedures” as suggestions. Why? Simple. We recognize that what may work for one unit doesn’t work for everyone.
This is the case with the fire team billet of “automatic rifleman.” The position is supposed to be held by the team leader’s second in command, usually a trusted advisor who can help run the team. But, over the years, Marines thought of a better person to hold the billet: boots. New guys. The FNGs. While some higher-ups might see this as hazing, the down-and-dirty, crayon-eating grunts disagree.
We argue that being an automatic rifleman teaches you these valuable lessons:
Accuracy is key. Pay attention and you might even score higher on the next qualification range.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)
Some battalions have what’s called a “Squad-Level Advanced Marksmanship Course,” which is a fancy, Marine Corps way of saying, “automatic rifleman course.” That’s essentially what it is. But the focus is, as the name suggests, on marksmanship. Why? Because to be a good automatic rifleman, you must first be a good rifleman.
Learning how to engage accurately with an automatic weapon also teaches you how to be a substantially more effective rifleman. After all, you’re firing a high volume of bullets and, the more accurate you are, the more devastating to the enemy you are.
You’ll want to let the rounds fly, but each one is important. Always be mindful of that.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders)
It’s no secret that you get a lot of ammo as an automatic rifleman — around 18-22 magazines, to be exact, most of which you’ll be responsible for lugging around. But while learning about accuracy, you might also learn about conserving ammo.
The idea is this: You need to have enough ammo at the end of the fight to move on to the next fight. Especially if you’re the automatic rifleman, your fire team needs you.
This lesson of control can even help you as a leader, telling your automatic rifleman what you want them to do.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)
Quickly, you’ll learn that an automatic rifleman shouldn’t just unleash a barrage of bullets. You’ll learn when it’s appropriate to fire on full auto and when it’s appropriate to fire in 5-6 round bursts into large groups of enemies. This is important because, as you move up in rank and experience, you’ll be able to teach the next automatic rifleman about control.
This same control will help you with ammo conservation. More importantly, all these lessons will follow you into other fire team positions. In fact, if you become a squad leader, knowing how to use your automatic riflemen will be easier if you’ve been one.
The Philadelphia Experiment is one of the most grotesque military urban legends ever — and it has endured as an infamous World War II conspiracy theory. But is there any truth to it? Let’s take a look.
According to legend, on Oct. 28, 1943, the USS Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, was conducting top-secret experiments designed to win command of the oceans against the Axis powers. The rumor was that the government was creating technology that would render naval ships invisible to enemy radar, and there in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was time to test it out.
Witnesses claim an eerie green-blue glow surrounded the hull of the ship as her generators spun up and then, suddenly, the Eldridge disappeared. The ship was then seen in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia before disappearing again and reappearing back in Philadelphia.
The legend states that classified military documents reported that the Eldridge crew were affected by the events in disturbing ways. Some went insane. Others developed mysterious illness. But others still were said to have been fused together with the ship; still alive, but with limbs sealed to the metal.
That’ll give you nightmares. That’s some Event Horizon sh*t right there.
I’ll never sleep again.
(Event Horizon | Paramount Pictures)
Which is actually a convincing reason why the Eldridge’s story gained so much momentum.
But before we break down what really happened that day, let’s talk about the man behind the myth: Carl M. Allen, who would go by the pseudonym, Carlos Miguel Allende. In 1956, Allende sent a series of letters to Morris K. Jessup, author of the book, The Case for the UFO, in which he argued that unidentified flying objects merit further study.
Jessup apparently included text about unified field theory because this is what Allende latched onto for his correspondences. In the 1950s, unified field theory, which has never been proven, attempted to merge Einstein’s general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. In fact, Allende claimed to have been taught by Einstein himself and could prove the unified field theory based on events he witnessed on October 28, 1943.
Allende claimed that he saw the Eldridge disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and he further insisted that the United States Military had conducted what he called the Philadelphia Experiment — and was trying to cover it up.
This is one of the weirdest details. The annotations were designed to look like they were written by three different authors – one maybe extraterrestrial? According to Valle’s article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jessup became obsessed with Allende’s revelations, and the disturbed researcher would take his own life in 1959. It wasn’t until 1980 that proof of Allende’s forgery would be made available.
Inexplicably, two ONR officers had 127 copies of the annotated text printed and privately distributed by the military contractor Varo Manufacturing, giving wings to Allende’s story long after Jessup’s death.
So, what really happened aboard the USS Eldridge that day?
Somewhere in Delaware there are secret military canals that have all the answers…
According to Edward Dudgeon, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Engstrom, which was dry-docked in the Philadelphia Naval Yard while the Eldridge was, both ships did have classified devices on board. They were neither invisibility cloaks nor teleportation drives designed by aliens, but instead, they scrambled the magnetic signatures of ships using the degaussing technique, which provided protection from magnetic torpedoes aboard U-boats.
How Stuff Works suggested that the “green glow” reported by witnesses that day could be explained by an electric storm or St. Elmo’s Fire which, in addition to being an American coming-of-age film starring the Brat Pack, is a weather phenomenon in which plasma is created in a strong electric field, giving off a bright glow, almost like fire.
Finally, inland canals connected Norfolk to Philadelphia, allowing a ship to travel between the two in a few hours.
The USS Eldridge would be transferred to Greece in 1951 and sold for scrap in the 90s, but Allende’s hoax would live on in our effing nightmares forever.
In an interview with We Are The Mighty, the man behind the camouflage pattern, Guy Cramer of HyperStealth Biotechnologies, says there were very specific reasons why the Afghan army chose the uniforms it did, and that it wasn’t a decision imposed by the Pentagon.
1. The camouflage is actually perfect for the environment
Pentagon watchdogs argue the Afghan army uniform is built in a pattern that won’t help conceal soldiers in about 98 percent of Afghanistan’s environment. The country is mostly desert, rock or arid (think the New Mexico or Arizona mountains) and the green-heavy pattern the Afghan army adopted isn’t suited to most of the battlefields soldiers would fight in.
Cramer told us, however, that at the time the army adopted its pattern, most of the fighting was going on in the agricultural areas of Afghanistan’s south, among ribbons of lush growth flanking irrigation canals and croplands.
The pattern adopted by the Afghan army is similar to one that was developed for a competition in the U.S. Army to find an alternative to the gray-green Universal Camouflage Pattern the service began fielding in 2003. Cramer engineered so-called the US4CES family of patterns that in some tests performed far better than the MultiCam pattern the Army eventually settled on.
One of the things Cramer builds into his patterns is technology to help conceal soldiers at night, not just in daylight. Pentagon watchdogs claim there were several U.S. patterns available for the Afghans to choose from, including the UCP one and the old-style “Battle Dress Uniform” analog pattern.
But Cramer says the UCP and others “glows” at night when seen through night vision — a technology that’s becoming increasingly available to insurgents and terrorists.
The Afghan pattern is designed to help conceal soldiers during night operations, which are increasingly part of the Afghan army’s tactics.
3. It sets the army apart
Sure, Pentagon watchdogs point fingers — and possibly rightly so — at then Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak for his focus on fashion instead of utility in picking the AFPAT over other patterns like BDUs and desert digital. But Cramer says one of the things Wardak was looking to do was to set his forces apart from the rest of the hodgepodge of Afghanistan’s security forces.
“He wanted it to be distinct,” Cramer said. “The ANA is highly respected in Afghanistan and he wanted his troops to look different.”
Sounds kinda like the Marine Corps, doesn’t it?
Also, and potentially more importantly, Cramer argues that making a distinct, licensed pattern for the ANA is safer for the troops because it’s harder for insurgents to disguise themselves as friendlies and infiltrate bases.
“Anyone can get their hands on BDUs,” he added.
In fact, there have been several incidents in Afghanistan where insurgents have slipped inside friendly lines wearing Army UCP-pattern uniforms, and the Afghan army wanted to avoid that at all costs, Cramer said.
The fur is flying over the alleged “waste” of $28 million in an Afghan uniform that’s suitable for just 2 percent of Afghanistan’s terrain (if you just include “forest” as your measure), and there’s certainly a lot of waste, fraud and abuse to go around when it comes to bankrolling America’s Afghan allies.
But as with any Washington kerfuffle over Pentagon spending, there’s at least a little more to it than meets the eye.
Russia’s new heavy combat drone has flown for the first time alongside the country’s most advanced fighter jet, giving the fighter a new edge in battle, the Russian defense ministry announced Sept. 27, 2019.
“The Okhotnik unmanned aerial vehicle has performed its first joint flight with a fifth-generation Su-57 plane,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
The two Russian aircraft flew together “to broaden the fighter’s radar coverage and to provide target acquisition for employing air-launched weapons,” the ministry added.
Unmanned aerial vehicle “Okhotnik” made the first joint flight with a fifth-generation fighter Su-57
The flight involving both the Okhotnik drone and the Su-57 fighter appears to confirm what some have suspected for months — that the stealthy flying-wing drone was designed to fight alongside and provide critical battespace information to Russia’s new fifth-generation fighters.
In January 2019, shortly after photos of the Okhtonik appeared online, photos of an Su-57 with an interesting new paint job appeared. The redesign featured silhouettes of a Su-57 and a flying-wing aircraft that looked a lot like the Okhotnik.
Russia claims that the Okhotnik has stealth capabilities, a byproduct of its shape and an anti-radar coating, and is equipped with electro-optical, radar, and other types of reconnaissance equipment.
The heavy attack drone is currently controlled remotely, but in future tests, it is expected to perform in a semi-autonomous state and eventually a completely autonomous mode, TASS reports.
Testing with various armaments is expected in the next few years, and the drone will be handed over to Russian troops around 2025.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Over 100 US Marines sent a “strong message” to Russia with a live-fire exercise in Syria after the Russians threatened to conduct strikes near a key US-led coalition base. US Central Command has released several combat photos of that message to a rival power.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jorge Castrosamaniego, an assault man with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, learns how to utilize an 84 mm Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria Sept. 9, 2018.
Russia told the US it wanted to launch strikes near a key US-led coalition base, but the US Marines demonstrated that it would be better for Russia to keep out.
Russia warned the US twice in early September 2018 that Russian, Syrian, and pro-regime forces planned to conduct operations and launch strikes in the deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison, accusing the US and its coalition partners of failing to adequately combat terrorists in the area. The US military, together with its regional partners, responded by holding a live-fire exercise reportedly involving air assets, artillery, and other heavy weaponry meant to send the clear message that it is more than capable of taking on any and all threats.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Carter Sampson, an anti-tank missile gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires a FGM-148 Javelin, a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile, at his target during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.
“The US does not require any assistance in our efforts to destroy ISIS in the At Tanf deconfliction zone and we advised the Russians to remain clear,” CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told Business Insider, adding, “Coalition partners are in the At Tanf deconfliction zone for the fight to destroy ISIS. Any claim that the US is harboring or assisting ISIS is grossly inaccurate.”
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dave Lawless, an assault man with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, instructs others how to utilize the Mk 153 shoulder-launch multipurpose assault weapon during operations near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria Sept. 9, 2018.
A U.S. Marine with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires at a target with an M240B machine gun during a live fire demonstration near At Tanf Garrison, Syria September 7, 2018.
The US military informed the Russians that it is not looking for a fight, but it is more than ready should anyone come looking for one.
“The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war,” Brown previously told BI in an emailed statement.
“However,” he added, “the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances.”
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Fabian Castro (right), an infantry rifleman with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, provides security at a position near At Tanf Garrison, Syria September 7, 2018.
The At Tanf garrison in Syria serves as a base for US operations against the Islamic State, as well as an obstacle for broader Russian, Syrian, and Iranian interests in the region.
Russia’s interest in the deconfliction zone has little to nothing to do with combating terrorism in the region, a US defense official told BI. The At Tanf deconfliction zone sits in the middle of a major connection between Tehran and Damascus.
Moscow remains critical of the US military presence in Syria. Nonetheless, Russia agreed to a 55-kilometer deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison, and the US military continues to expect the Russians to continue to abide by this agreement.
The US military has previously engaged foreign forces that attempted to enter the deconfliction zone. For instance, last summer, coalition troops “destroyed” pro-regime forces that “advanced inside the well-established deconfliction zone,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James Gordon, a machine gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires at his target with an M240B machine gun during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Philip Russell, a machine gun squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, provides security at a position near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria Sept. 7, 2018.
U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, prepare to board an MV-22 Osprey on to a site near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.
The exercise came as Russia gathered its naval forces in the Mediterranean to assist Syrian and pro-regime troops as they began a major assault on Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels.
The United Nations has stressed that a full-scale assault on Idlib would result in a humanitarian catastrophe. Tens of thousands of people have already begun fleeing the area.
The US has warned the Syrian regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that any use of chemical weapons will be met with a strong, swift response. “The president expects us to have military options in the event that chemical weapons are used,’ Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said over the weekend, adding, “We have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”
US strikes on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons run contrary to Russian interests and have resulted in criticism from Moscow.
Tensions between the US and Russia, however, extend beyond the Syrian battlegrounds
Russia is currently holding major war games with China in the eastern part of the country, and these exercises are expected to be held on a “regular basis” going forward. The Pentagon is watching closely as the two US rivals strive to strengthen military ties.
During the drills, Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers escorted by Su-35 Flanker fighter jets were intercepted by F-22 stealth fighters near Alaska. It was the second time this month that American military aircraft have intercepted Russian bombers near the state.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Russian government is holding a nationwide emergency drill that mobilizes civil defense forces on a massive scale, a move prompted by rising tensions between Russia and the United States regarding Syria – tensions some in the Kremlin believe could start a nuclear war.
The exercise, which started Tuesday and involves more than 200,000 emergency services workers, comes on the heels of news that Russia began last week deploying a battery of Russian S-300 air defense missile launchers in Syria. The NATO code name for the system is SA-10 Grumble. Capable of striking both manned aircraft and cruise missiles, it is the first time the Russians have ever deployed the advanced weapons system outside of their borders.
The pro-Kremlin Interfax news service says EMERCOM, the Russian emergency services ministry, is performing the drill through October 7. Quoting civil defense chief Oleg Manuilov, the article says the drill will affect up to 40 million Russians – about a quarter of the nation’s population – as well as use 50,000 pieces of unspecified emergency equipment.
“In practice, the (emergency) notification will be issued and we will gather the governing federal departments and agencies, Russian Federation authorities, and local governments,” said Manuilov.
Among other things, the drill will practice issuing protective gear, distributing sanitary supplies, and establishing casualty collection points, he said. Civil defense officials will also inspect local hospitals and clinics to determine their readiness and “quality of care” offered during an emergency.
The article called the drill and the training it offers a “reality check.”
Recent pro-Kremlin media reports have claimed in shrill tones that the United States wants to use its nuclear arsenal to punish Russia for its hand in the Syrian conflict.
Talks between the U.S. and Russia in an effort to broker a Syrian cease-fire ended Monday. The U.S. ended negotiations after accusing the Kremlin of joining with the Syrian Air Force in carrying out a brutal bombing campaign against the besieged city of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Russian officials confirmed the placement of the S-300 battery at a Syrian naval base soon after FOX News broke the story, according to RT News.
“This system is designed to ensure the safety of the naval base in Tartus and ships located in the coastal area,” said Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman. “The S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat.”
However, anti-Syrian rebels battling Russian forces such as the Al-Nusra Front possess no air power, raising the question of whether the air defense missiles are there to threaten U.S. aircraft patrolling the area or knock out a potential U.S. cruise missile strike.
The S-300 system is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. First deployed in 1979, it has gone through recent upgrades and modifications which allow it to target multiple threats quickly and accurately.
Tonight NBC and IAVA are hosting the first-ever “Commander-in-Chief Forum” in the hangar bay of the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that’s now a museum docked at Pier 86 in midtown Manhattan. The forum will not be a debate, but rather a hybrid “town hall” event, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appearing separately in back-to-back 30-minute segments to answer questions posed by NBC personality Matt Lauer. The forum airs tonight at 8 PM EDT. (Check local listings for the NBC/MSNBC station in your area.)
The military community — particularly the active duty community — has a unique stake in the outcome of this election since the Constitution makes the President of the United States the Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s military and give him or her the power to take the nation to war. As a result, servicemembers would be well advised to exercise their right to vote and to be as informed as possible while doing so.
Here’s a quick look at some of the issues that will likely come up during the event:
1. Defense budget
The defense budget is a complex beast, worth over $600 billion in annual spending (as measured by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act). Wrapped into that are the costs of fighting the wars in Afghanistan and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the acquisition programs for defense systems (aka “program of record”), manpower funding, and ancillary items like child care and spouse employment. But look for tonight’s discussion to be centered around the issue of “sequestration,” the law passed in 2012 as a deficit reduction measure that wound up targeting the Pentagon more than any other part of the government as a way to yield the desired outcome. The result, which threatens to cut DoD’s budget by nearly 25 percent over the next eight years, has been blamed for harming military readiness in myriad ways, including gutting the number of troops on active duty and creating the need for squadrons to “cannibalize” scrapped airplanes in order to stay airworthy.
Watch for Trump to call for an end to sequestration with the assertion that the necessary deficit reductions can be met by elimination of government waste. For her part, Clinton is likely to avoid committing to ending sequestration, instead focusing on how America needs to be more judicious about when and where troops should be deployed.
2. Vet healthcare
This has been a hot-button topic during the campaign season to date and is sure to dominate a large portion of the discussion tonight. The VA has been plaqued by scandals in recent years — everything from long wait times that resulted in vet patient deaths to claims backlogs in the hundred of thousands — and Secretary Bob McDonald, who was brought in because of his corporate business experience, has been frustrated by the slow pace of change within the agency even as he touts the accomplishments that have occured on his watch.
Solutions for the VA’s woes are incredibly complex and don’t make for good television, so watch for Lauer to admininster the litmus test to the candidates in the form of a question around how each of them feels about privatization, which is basically a plan to outsource many if not all of the functions to private medical entities. (A “Commission on Care” recently released a report that said privatization was a bad idea cost-wise and that vets who tried it hated it because they felt lost in the system.) Trump initially said he supported privatization but has since softened that position, favoring it only “when it makes sense.” Clinton is against privatization.
A possible x-factor on this topic is that Trump recently called VA Secretary McDonald “a political hack.” While Lauer probably won’t directly ask him whether he stands by that, watch for a more-cryptic version of that question.
3. Vet suicides
This topic is a subset of the one above. The latest statistics released by DoD are that 20 veterans a day commit suicide. Last year the Clay Hunt Act was passed by Congress to combat this trend, and it aims to do so in 3 major ways: Improve the quality of mental health care, improve access to quality mental health care, and to increase the number of mental health care providers.
4. Foreign policy (and war against ISIS)
Trump has used the threat of ISIS as a centerpiece of his campaign, claiming that the group’s rise is a function of President Obama’s perceived weakness across the world stage. Clinton, on the other hand, primarily as a function of her recent experience as Secretary of State, tends to be very granular in her answers when asked what the U.S. should do to combat the Islamic State.
This topic as much as any other illustrates the contrast between the candidates. Watch for Trump to avoid details and instead state in general terms how we have to be tougher and how he’ll take care of the problem very quickly and Clinton to get into the weeds, which, in turn, will give Trump fuel for his thesis that, for all of her knowledge, she’s failed to keep America safer during her time in government. Trump has stated that he’s unwilling to topple Syrian president Assad, while Clinton has said she is willing to do that.
The other threat Lauer might introduce is the one posed by China, especially in light of recent saber rattling in the western Pacific and President Obama’s poor treatment, protocol-wise, at the G-8 Summit. Trump has been very aggressive with his anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail, particularly around trade practices and currency devaluation, so expect him to be similarly oriented tonight.
5. Vet education
This topic will most certainly take the form of a question about how the candidates feel about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the comprehensive education benefit made into law in 2009 that was expanded to cover spouses and dependents and has proved to be expensive as a result. As lawmakers continue to fight budget battles on the Hill, some have recently made feints toward narrowing the extent of the GI Bill, and those efforts have been met with stiff resistance from IAVA and other veteran service organizations.
If the subject comes up, and it certainly should, watch for both candidates to strongly support the GI Bill.
6. Vet employment
As important as getting vets the education opportunities they deserve is providing them with rewarding jobs in keeping with their experience and talents. Michele Obama and Jill Biden founded “Hire Our Heroes,” an intiative sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that has created awareness if not actual jobs. Clinton has said she supports government programs aimed at assisting veterans, and Trump generally answers questions on the subject with the claim that he will bring jobs back from overseas, which will benefit all Americans, including veterans.
7. Homeland defense/immigration
Immigration isn’t necessarily a veteran topic, except as it deals with the 6,000 Afghan interpreters who worked closely with our troops during the war and now would like to immigrate to the United States with their families because they fear for their safety in their homeland. These Afghans — supported by the veterans who fought alongside them — have faced roadblocks in obtaining visas to enter America.
While this topic most likely won’t come up tonight during the CiC Forum, it would be interesting to see how each candidate responds between now and the election.
Clinton: Benghazi, private email server and classified documents, smashed Blackberrys . . .
Trump: McCain “not a hero,” Purple Heart gaff, Khan (Gold Star) family kerfuffle, Saddam the awesome terrorist fighter . . .
Have your opinion thrown into the mix tonight by taking the #MilitaryVotesMatter poll. #MilitaryVotesMatter is powered by MilitaryOneClick teamed up with We Are The Mighty, Doctrine Man, Got Your Six and a handful of influencers who want to provide a non-partisan confidential opportunity for the military and veteran community to have their voices heard by sharing where they currently stand in the presidential election. The poll is short and straightforward collecting information about which state they will vote in, what branch of service they are affiliated with, their current military status, and the candidate they intend to vote for.
The OA-X program will not be seeing how its top contenders fare in combat. That is the decision the Air Force made as two of the planes failed to make the cut for the next round of evaluations.
According to a report from CombatAircraft.net, the Textron Scorpion and the AT-802U Longsword were given the chop by the Air Force. The AT-802 is a modified cropduster that’s been equipped with two .50-caliber Gatling guns. The Scorpion is a twin-engine jet that’s capable of carrying up to 9,000 pounds of ordnance.
The Air Force has been running the OA-X program to find a new close air support aircraft. Previously, the Air Force had planned to take designs that made the cut, the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano, and put on a real-world combat demonstration. This demonstration has been canceled. Instead, the U.S. Air Force plans to “work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking, and sensors with the two most promising light attack aircraft,” according to the Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson.
Even though the Scorpion is officially out of contention, Textron is not entirely out of the running, as it also produces the AT-6 — a version of the T-6 Texan II. The T-6, though, was recently reported to be causing in pilots what the Air Force describes as “unexpected physiological events,” a term that’s been recently used to describe incidents where aircrew experience symptoms of hypoxia. The 19th Air Force has ordered an “operational pause” for the Texan II while the issues are addressed.
If this same problem plagues the AT-6, we’re likely to see the A-29 Super Tucano win the OA-X competition. The A-29 has already proved itself in action with the Afghan Air Force and has also been sold to Nigeria and the Philippines.