Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Navy Veteran Gabriel George came to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in 2018 filled with energy and excitement. Returning for his second time to the clinic, George says his first time at the clinic was life-changing.

He joined the Navy in July 2004 where he served as a corpsman and deployed twice.

A few weeks after arriving home from his second deployment, he was involved in a devastating motorcycle accident. While heading home from bible study, a car pulled out in front of him. He awoke three weeks later in a hospital to find he had broken his C2 and C5 vertebrae, six ribs, his collar bone and scapula; he had collapsed both his lungs; suffered a traumatic brain injury; and permanently paralyzed his right arm.


After the injury, George says he spent a lot of time living on the couch and watching tv.

But then he was introduced to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic by Katie Blunk, his recreation therapist at North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, and says his life changed forever.

initially, he had low expectations at the clinic, and thought his paralyzed arm would prevent him from doing many activities.

“No way. I can’t do that,” he said, when he learned archery would be one of the sports he’d be introduced to.

But instructors showed him how to draw the bow by biting down on a mouth tab, and with that first pull and release of the arrow something woke within him.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Navy Veteran Gabriel George returned for his second time to participate in the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. George says the clinic got him moving and off the couch after suffering injuries from a motorcycle accident.

After archery, he went to sailing. As a Navy Veteran, George had lived aboard ship, but he’d never sailed a small vessel. He found the experience exhilarating, and says he felt connected with the water, pulling lines and working the sail.

“(It’s) at the top of the list of healing. Being able to find something you can do, moving just one body part, the rest of the body wants to follow and move too,” George said.

By the end of his first clinic, he was looking for a way to extend the experience. With Blunk’s help, George signed up for a sailing clinic near his home in Florida before the week in San Diego was finished.

“The very next morning I went out and found an archery shop and bought a bow,” he said about the moments after he arrived home.

Blunk says George’s experience is similar to many of the Veterans she’s seen benefit from adaptive sports therapy.

“Often I hear so many people saying I can’t do that. And then once they do try, it’s healing,” she said. “Once a Veteran sees they can do one sport they are inspired to keep trying other sports.”

George continues to participate in sports programs whenever and wherever he can.

“I was doing nothing before the (National Veterans) Summer Sports Clinic,” he said. “I bought a house and I don’t know why, because now, I’m never home.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

Marines’ future helicopter may be optionally manned

As the Marine Corps enters the final stages of preparing to receive the CH-35K King Stallion, its new heavy-lift workhorse helicopter, aviation officials are already looking forward to the Corps’ next generation of rotorcraft.


Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant of aviation, told reporters Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., that the Corps had asked for optionally manned capability for the Pentagon’s future vertical lift plan, which aims to develop replacement choppers for the Army and other services.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor

“We’ve told them it’s what we want,” Davis said. “Why wouldn’t we want it?”

Davis said he envisioned a vertical lift platform that might be operated unmanned to deliver cargo and manned for more sensitive or technically complex missions.

Potentially, he said, such a platform, equipped with a sensor, could also serve as an unmanned sentry of sorts from the air in defense of a deployed ship.

Davis noted that the future vertical lift, or FVL, program is currently in the down-select phases, and acquisition was expected to take place in the 2030s.

“The future of aviation is operationally manned,” Davis said.

The Air Force and Marine Corps are both part of the FVL program, which is led by the Army.

One candidate to satisfy FVL requirements is Bell’s V-280 Valor aircraft, a next-generation tiltrotor that does feature a fly-by-wire control system. The other aircraft being evaluated in the FVL program, the medium-lift Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 Defiant, also features fly-by-wire capabilities.

Davis said Marine officials had communicated with both contracting teams about their interest in optionally manned technology.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps continues to evaluate concepts for a separate unmanned or optionally manned air cargo and logistics platform.

In May, two Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-MAX optionally manned rotorcraft arrived at Marine Corps’ Operational Test Evaluation Squadron 22 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, for testing and development designed to evaluate their ability to perform surveillance and reconnaissance.

The K-MAX had previously deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, where it assisted Marines in moving cargo and gear across the battlespace.

Marine logistics officials have also expressed interest in DARPA’s Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES), an unmanned vertical lift platform designed for cargo resupply, medevac and surveillance.

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 killer photos of Marines taking on the heat in 29 Palms

Accompanied by nothing but sand, rocks and the desert sun, Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division continue to prepare for the unrelenting forces ahead by training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 15-July 19, 2019.

US Marines of Invictus participated in a five-day field operation where they were evaluated as squads, based on how well they shoot, move and communicate toward their objective.


Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

US Marine Corps Pfc. Trevor M. Banks, fireteam leader, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, moves through a breach to attack an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, attacks an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

US Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, prepare to breach an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, performs leaders reconnaissance before conducting a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, engages a target utilizing the M240G during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, communicates with his unit utilizing an AN/PRC-152 during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Luis R. Martinez, left, and Staff Sgt. Karl R. Benton, right, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fill out evaluation sheets during squad attacks at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Campbell, Intelligence Specialist, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, prepares an unmanned aerial system during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, engages a target utilizing the M240G during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

7 of the top superpowers every Airman possesses

Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!


No, it’s just your local veteran Airman. Undoubtedly, this Airman can pull off some amazing feats, like going days and days without sleep, surviving endless attempts at Enlisted Performance Report sabotage, and pulling a reflective belt out of seemingly nowhere.

It’s true, every Airman leaves service with a certain set of special abilities. Below are 7 of the top superpowers that every Airman possesses.

Related: 7 of the top surprises veterans face going to school

7. Sleep? What is that?

Careers across all the branches require us to stretch our body’s limitations. Depending on the circumstance and specific requirements, different aspects of our selves are tested. One of the most common sacrifices, though, is sleep. Airmen quickly learn to operate on minimal sleep.

8 hours per night? Right.

In some cases, you’ll be lucky to get 4.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
12 hour shift, followed by PT… then an appointment… and another… then another 12 hour shift. (Image from How Stuff Works)

6. Turbo dieting

Physical fitness is definitely a part of military culture. In this regard, the Air Force is a bit later to the party than some of our older, more steeled brethren.

On any given morning on the posts of our older brothers, you’ll likely find a squad or two doing some type of PT. This is true on Air Force bases, too. Well, kinda.

You’re just as likely to see a squadron doing regular PT as you are to see a cardio room full of crash-dieting Airmen trying to prepare for their Air Force Physical Training test… which is next week.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Fat boy, fat boy, where you been? (Image from Warner Bros.’ Full Metal Jacket).

5. Built Ford tough

We are good and strong, for the most part. At least for a while.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Right? Right. (Image from New Line Cinema’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)

4. “Grin and bear it” champions

There is a common misconception that Airmen are akin to teenagers: quick to talk back and rebel. There are kernels of truth in this, as there are in most myths.

In today’s Air Force, it is much easier to have your career cut off by a simple mistake. It really is a one-mistake Air Force.

You are constantly on edge, so if you value your time in uniform and want it to continue, you might have to eat a bit of humble pie.

Well, actually, a lot of humble pie.

Like, the whole pie.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Wanna stick around? Eat up, Airman!

3. Acronym deciphering specialty

The U.S. Air Force, like the rest of the military, has fallen in unabashed love with acronyms.

Living in this environment turns your mind into an acronym making and breaking beast.

It is totally possible to get an email with the title, “USAF USN TRNG CQB SF Amn in AETC.”

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Actual footage of higher up thinking up more acronyms. (Image from Warner Bros. Pictures’ Hangover Part III)

2. Adaptability

The only constant is change.

Every Airmen, Marine, Sailor, and Soldier know this. It is embedded into us, if not through instruction, then certainly through the swift and immediate changes of course we experience without much notice.

It really is sink or swim. Adapt or die.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Pff! Who’s afraid of a little change? (Image from Bold Films’ Nightcrawler)

Also related: 5 of the top excuses MPs hear during traffic stops

1. Selflessness

One of the USAF core values is “service before self.” That mentality will stay with you if it ever got through to you. Airmen will always put others and the big picture before self.

This is sometimes a detriment, but it’s a wonderful ability nonetheless.

MIGHTY TRENDING

See the emotional reunion between this Marine and her canine partner

When Sergeant Angela Cardone enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17, she had no idea she would find a soulmate.

As a military police officer, Sgt. Cardone began training with military working dogs at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. It was here that she met Bogi, a Belgian Malinois.

Cardone admitted it was not love at first sight for the pair.

“When I first was told I was being put on her I was not excited because she didn’t know anything, really—she didn’t even know her own name,” Cardone said. “And I didn’t think she would be able to work or listen. And a month or two in, it completely changed, and we just clicked instantly.”

During this time, Cardone was personally struggling to overcome intense homesickness and the loss of her grandfather. From July 2018 – October 2019, the pair worked as partners conducting patrols and safety sweeps of vehicles, buildings, and cargo in Japan, developing what Cardone calls an “unbreakable bond.” 

canine partner

But that all changed in 2020 when the pair was separated.

“When I was first taken off her, I was kind of shocked, because I had a little bit of time left, so I wasn’t expecting to be off her so soon,” Cardone shared. “So, it definitely sucked, because she was my best friend, and I didn’t have that to go to anymore.”

Cardone was reassigned to Hawaii in June 2020, leaving her canine partner and friend behind in Japan.

“Being without her, it kind of felt like a piece of me was missing,” Cardone shared of being separated from Bogi. “And I just always thought about her, always thinking about how the other handlers were treating her… hopefully it was really good.”

Shortly after being reassigned to Hawaii, Cardone learned that Bogi was going to be medically retired due to a broken bone in her neck. Immediately, the Marine Corps Sergeant got to work trying to figure out how to adopt her, but the road to bringing Bogi from Japan to Hawaii was daunting.

Cardone knew she couldn’t do this alone, and reached out to American Humane for help. As the country’s first and largest humane organization, American Humane’s military program helps bring retired military dogs home to reunite with their former handlers and provides ongoing veterinary care and financial support to make sure that America’s K-9 veterans receive the comfortable, dignified retirements they deserve.

“American Humane is dedicated to honoring the lifesaving contributions of all veterans, including the four-legged heroes who serve our country,” Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane said. “With the support of generous donors, American Humane is committed to helping all military heroes come home to retire on U.S. soil.”

Bogi’s journey home spanned the course of two days. From the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Base, she was driven to the Hiroshima Airport, where she flew to Haneda Airport. After spending the night at a professional K-9 handler’s home, Bogi flew just over seven hours to Honolulu, Hawaii.

canine partner

Cardone and Bogi were reunited February 16, 2021 in Honolulu. 

“It was indescribable,” Cardone said of their reunion. “Kind of never thought that this day would actually come so it’s kind of… I don’t know, just a really heartwarming type of feeling.”

The Marine shared the pair’s reunion would not have been possible without American Humane.

“Without them, I probably would have messed up the paperwork [and] I probably would have messed up the travel,” she said. “And I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to be with her again.”

American Humane covered the costs of Bogi’s travel from Japan to Hawaii. It also covered the costs of everything Sgt. Cardone needed to get to welcome Bogi into her new home—a comfortable dog bed, treats, food, toys, and more.

“American Humane is honored to bring Bogi home to reunite with her best friend, Sgt. Angela Cardone,” Ganzert said. “We are thrilled to give Bogi the dignified, comfortable retirement she deserves. Sgt. Cardone and Bogi made so many sacrifices in service to our country. Bringing them back together is the least we can do in return.”

Now that they are together, Cardone plans on spoiling her best friend.

“I’m most looking forward to giving her the retirement she wants,” she said. “Letting her sleep on the couch, sleep in my bed, honestly, and I’m going to bring her right after this to go get a Puppuccino from Starbucks.”

Articles

How China could potentially stop a US strike on North Korea — without starting World War III

After North Korea tested a salvo of ballistic missiles designed to defeat US and allied missile defenses in the Pacific, speculation has risen about a possible US decapitation strike on North Korea.


With the help of Stratfor‘s Sim Tack, Business Insider detailed how such a strike would likely play out, but in the interest of keeping the article focused, we omitted a major player — China.

Here’s how China would respond if the US were to attack the Hermit Kingdom.

China has interests in preserving the North Korean state, but not enough to start World War III over.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
DoD photo

China may not endorse North Korea’s nuclear threats towards the US, South Korea, and Japan, or its abysmal human rights practices, but Beijing does have a vested interest in preventing reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Related: China’s J-20 stealth fighter enters military service

Still, China’s proximity to North Korea means that the US would likely alert Chinese forces of an attack — whether they gave 30 minutes or 30 days notice, the Chinese response would likely be to preclude — not thwart — such an attack.

China sees a united Korea as a potential threat.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
U.S. Soldiers move a casualty toward a designated casualty collection point (CCP) with their Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Soldier counterparts during a platoon live fire training blank iteration on Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, near the DMZ, Republic of Korea. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock

“A united Korea is potentially very powerful, country right on China’s border,” with a functioning democracy, booming tech sector, and a Western bent, which represents “a problem they’d rather not deal with,” according to Tack.

The US has more than 25,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, but no US asset has crossed the 38th parallel in decades. China would like to keep it that way.

And without North Korea, China would find itself exposed.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
A Korean Ship sails in formation during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006, the world’s largest biennial maritime exercise. RIMPAC brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rebecca J. Moat

For China, the North Korean state acts as a “physical buffer against US allies and forces,” said Tack.

If the US could base forces in North Korea, they’d be right on China’s border, and thereby better situated to contain China as it continues to rise as a world power.

Tack said that China would “definitely react to and try to prevent” US action that could lead to a reunified Korea, but the idea that Chinese ground forces would flood into North Korea and fight against the West is “not particularly likely at all.”

Overtly backing North Korea against the West would be political suicide for China.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Kim Jong-Un on the summit of Mt. Paektu. Photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 19, 2015

For China to come to the aide of the Kim regime — an international pariah with concentration camps and ambitions to nuke the US — just to protect a buffer state “would literally mean that China would engage in a third world war,” said Tack.

So while China would certainly try to mitigate the fall of North Korea, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do so with direct force against the West, like it did in the Korean War.

Any response from China would likely start with diplomacy.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Currently, the US has an aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines, F-22s, and F-35s in the Pacific. Many of the US’s biggest guns shipped out to the Pacific for Foal Eagle, the annual military exercise between the US and South Korea.

But according to Tack, the real deliberations on North Korea’s fate aren’t going on between military planners, but between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Chinese diplomats he’ll be meeting with.

Even after decades of failed diplomacy, there’s still hope for a non-military solution.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. | Via Flickr.

“There’s still a lot of diplomatic means to use up before the US has no other options but to go with a military option,” said Tack. “But even if they decide the military option is going to be the way to go — it’s still going to be costly. It’s not something that you would take lightly.”

While no side in a potential conflict would resort to using force without exhausting all diplomatic avenues, each side has a plan to move first.

According to Tack, if China thought the US was going to move against North Korea, they’d try to use force to pressure Pyongyang to negotiate, lest they be forced to deal with the consequences of a Western-imposed order in what would eventually be a reunified Korea.

“China could bring forces into North Korea to act as a tripwire,” said Tack.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Soldiers with the People’s Liberation Army at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. | 
DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force.

“The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves.”

For the same reason that the US stations troops in South Korea, or Poland, China may look to put some of its forces on the line to stop the US from striking.

Related: Chinese troops are reportedly patrolling in Afghanistan

With Chinese soldiers in Pyongyang and around North Korea’s main nuclear infrastructure, the US would have to think long and hard about bombing these critical targets.

It’s pretty likely that China would try to force the “infallible” ruler’s hand.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Even China, a country often indifferent to international opinion that has strict prohibitions on free speech internally, wouldn’t want to stand up and back the murderous Kim regime.

Chinese forces in North Korea would “be in a position to force a coup or force Kim’s hand” to disarm, said Tack.

“To make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US,” he added.

That would be an ideal result for China, and would most certainly preclude a direct US strike.

But even if China does potentially save the day, it could still be perceived as the bad guy.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard

Chinese leaders wants to avoid a strong, US-aligned Korea on its borders. They want to prevent a massive refugee outflow from a crushed North Korean state. And they want to defuse the Korean peninsula’s nuclear tensions — but in doing so, they’d expose an ugly truth.

US President Donald Trump has accused China of refusing to help with North Korea.

If China unilaterally denuclearized North Korea to head off a US strike, this would only vindicate that claim, and raise questions as to why China allowed North Korea to develop and export dangerous technologies and commit heinous human rights abuses.

So what happens in the end?

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Chinese and US sailors observe a gun exercise aboard the Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Lt. Cmdr. Zeng Xingjian)

For China, it’s “not even about saving” the approximately 25 million living under a brutal dictatorship in North Korea, but rather maintaining its buffer state, according to Tack.

China would likely seek to install an alternative government to the Kim regime but one that still opposes the West and does not cooperate with the US.

According to Tack, China needs a North Korean state that says “we oppose Western interests and we own this plot of land.”

If China doesn’t exert its influence soon, it may be too late.

Articles

Chinese Navy carries out brazen heist of American UUV

The People’s Liberation Army Navy stole an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) conducting oceanographic research Thursday in plain view of a U.S. Navy vessel about fifty miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines.


According to a report from the Washington Examiner, the brazen heist took place in international waters as the oceanographic research vessel USNS Bowditch (T AGS 62), a Pathfinder-class ship.

The BBC reported that the vessel responsible for the heist was ASR-510, identified in Combat Fleets of the World as a Dalang III-class “rescue and salvage” ship. The Chinese vessel apparently came within 500 yards of the Bowditch, lowered a small boat and seized the littoral battlespace sensing (LBS) glider.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Daniel Braun, left, Eric Sanchez and David Barney, Systems Center Pacific engineers at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), perform pre-deployment inspections on littoral battlespace sensing gliders aboard the Military Sealift Command oceanographic survey ship USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60). Each glider hosts a payload suite of sensors that will measure the physical characteristics of the water column as the glider routinely descends and ascends in the ocean. The gliders will be deployed during an at-sea test aboard Pathfinder Oct. 22-Nov. 5. (U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt)

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored.  The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”

According to a 2010 Navy release, the LBS glider can operate for up to eight months on a lithium battery. The data gathered by these gliders assist in everything from special operations to mine warfare to anti-submarine warfare.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) — Navy file photo of the T-AGS 60 Class Oceanographic Survey Ship, USNS Bowditch. Her mission includes oceanographic sampling and data collection of surface, midwater and ocean floor parameters; launch and recovery of hydrographic survey launches (HSLs); the launching , recovering and towing of scientific packages (both tethered and autonomous), including the handling, monitoring and servicing of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs); shipboard oceanogaphic data processing and sample analysis; and precise navigation, trackline maneuvering and station keeping to support deep-ocean and coastal surveys. There are 5 ships in this class. (U.S. Navy photo)

This is not the first time the Bowditch has been involved in a maritime incident with the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Globalsecurity.org noted that a week before the 2001 EP-3 incident in which a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 Finback collided with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance plane, a Chinese frigate came very close to the unarmed vessel. The Bowditch, which is manned by a civilian crew, also was involved in incidents in 2002 and 2003.

China claims ownership of the South China Sea, marking its claims with a so-called “Nine-Dash Line.” An international panel rejected Chinese claims earlier this year in a case brought by the Philippines. The Chinese boycotted the process, and have since armed a number of artificial islands in the disputed region. Shortly after the ruling was issued, Chinese forces rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed waters.

MIGHTY CULTURE

GySgt Joshua Negron: Carrying on the legacy of a true warrior, leader, and mentor

UAP recently sat down with Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Negron, an active Marine Raider and veteran of the Marine Reconnaissance community.

Negron enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 4, 2000, and his personal decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, Joint Service Commendation Medal, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and three Combat Action Ribbons.

Here is the exclusive interview.

What led you to join the Marine Corps and then later Recon and MARSOC?

Well, I have family members that have prior military service, but it all started with my grandfather who served and fought in WWII. Like most during that time he answered the call and joined the US Army who then deployed him to Africa. After the German forces were defeated, the Allied forces advanced, and my grandfather moved with his unit into Italy to continue fighting until their surrender in 1943. Not long afterwards, my grandfather met my grandmother in Italy. That’s how my whole story even became possible.

However, the biggest contributing factor to why I wanted to join the military is largely because of my father who joined the Marine Corps in ’57, fought in the Dominican Republic in ’65, and got out in ’68.   Shortly after, I believe, he served in the Army National Guard from ’70-’90. During that same timeframe he was a full-time police officer in California. My father was always extremely patriotic and loved serving his country. I admired my father so much growing up that I knew my calling in life would eventually guide me down a similar path.  All his police buddies had military backgrounds, predominantly from the Vietnam timeframe which resonated with me.  All this ultimately directed my path to a very early preparation to join the Marine Corps Infantry, with the ambition of pursuing a more specialized background.

But early on, I didn’t know if I was good enough to go Recon or Force Recon and MARSOC didn’t exist at the time. When you aspire for something like that, you know, sometimes the people who are in those fields almost look superhuman-like, and sometimes you wonder, “do I really have what it takes, go that route?”

My first unit I joined in the Marine Corps was LAR – a light armored mechanized infantry unit.  I learned some valuable things there and met some great Marines, but I also ran into some terrible Marines too. In my first platoon I had really bad leadership, which later on taught me a valuable lesson: Exactly how not to be like as a leader!

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Negron during a deployment.

And then right before I left LAR, I had excellent leadership. 1st Sergeant Loya who retired as a SgtMaj, was a big contributing factor to the reason why I got my opportunity to go over to Recon. He was a prior Force Recon Marine. The guy was built like a spark plug, and for somebody that was probably in his early 40’s, he could still practically outperform the large majority of the battalion in PT (physical training). Beyond all that, he genuinely loved the men that he led. His leadership style was more that of a father but also someone that was highly respected and that you did not want to disappoint or piss off.

He was very inspirational and helped motivate me to seek something further for myself in life – to seek out a higher challenge. So, I reset my sites back on Recon, and after making it I realized I had found my home.  Six great years and three deployments later in Recon I looked to the next progression for my career. MARSOC was already up and operating with an aggressive training cycle in preparation for the next big fight in Afghanistan.  A lot of my friends from Recon had already transferred over there.  It looked like the next best thing, a new challenge, and one I gladly accepted.

What, if anything, do you miss about being in the Recon community versus being in MARSOC at this point?

There was just an atmosphere in Recon that, for that time, I don’t think you can really replicate or replace.  There’s a real brotherhood there, and warfare bonded us closer together.  Ultimately, I just miss the camaraderie with the Recon guys. There was always just a healthy, competitive spirit that everybody had about them. You were always competing against your brother, but there wasn’t any sort of animosity. It was all in a loving way. For lack of better words, you always challenged each other, especially in training, and even in combat. Every platoon was trying to outdo the other ones but we all mutually supported one another.

Everyone worked hand-in-hand together. Our SOP’s (standard operating procedures) were practically the same, and we also worked together inside the house with (close quarters battle) tactics which was all dynamic. Even though our platoons were separated, our tactics were the same. When we operated in the house, we would often times mix teams together with other platoons just because combat could call for that very same thing.

You may have to take on a large structure or multiple structures to where one platoon isn’t enough to cover all the ground, so we would incorporate another platoon for additional support. And the more familiar you guys are with each other the better. There was just a unique, I guess, working spirit that everyone had together and really in a way embodied the term “gung-ho”, which translates to “working together in spirit” or as my father would say “working together in harmony”.  Recon Marines – and Marines in general – always look after their brothers, and you always looked after their best interests.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Negron and his wife, Erika, at a birthday celebration for their wonderful little daughter.

Do you have a favorite moment from your time in uniform – something that you’re particularly proud of?

All of my deployments with Recon were great. I mean, some of the workups weren’t necessarily fun at times and the actual deployments definitely had their own suck factor, but my overall favorite experiences of being in the military were the two times that I deployed as a Recon team leader. My first team and combat deployment was great, but as a point man I didn’t grow.  I just did what I was told to do, as by design.  Being thrown into a leadership position really forced me to take a deeper look into myself. Having seen firsthand great and terrible leaders I wanted to ensure that I did not repeat past mistakes from others as I re-evaluated my AAR (after action report) of life experiences.  At that time, it was the next door for me to walk through, and for me, this one was very personal.

One of the greatest pieces of advice that I ever received was from a father figure of mine growing up named Dave Deluca, who was a Ranger that served as a 1st Lt. with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam. Dave was a great friend of my fathers who I went to see just before I left on my first deployment.  He said three things to me: first, “never tell your men to do something that you have never done yourself or don’t have the balls to do yourself”, “if it scares you to do something as a leader, you should not send one of your men to do it for you, do it yourself and your second in command should be ready to take over should anything happen to you”, and the last was “don’t ever think at any time point in time during combat that you’re not going to make it, no matter how bad it gets, always believe that you’ll live no matter what, even if wounded, and always take care of your men and do whatever you need to survive, nothing more”.

One of the biggest things that I wanted to do as a leader other than the obvious was to ensure that I actually listened to and mentored my men.  Evaluating them was vital and something that I was intimately involved in.  Any opportunity that presented itself turned into a quick on the spot lesson.  At the same time, I encouraged them all to be free thinkers and to partake in mission planning.  Like any leader I believe that I’m tactically sound and proficient, but I’m not the smartest, nor can I think of everything.  So, I made it clear to my men that at any point in time If I ever made a mistake or need correction, by all means do so regardless of rank but please do it professionally. I’m not above reproach and if I’m making decisions in combat that can affect whether or not we make it back alive, then everyone needs to have trust in me and my ability if I’m truly going to lead.  If I’m messed up in anyway, or if there’s a better way to get the job done, I want to know.  Their voices were equally as important as my own, as there’s always a risk when you step outside the wire and the enemy always gets to vote.  In combat, life and death is weighted and measured by seconds and inches, and anything can get you killed – including doing nothing.  My team needed to know that I would always look after them no matter what and they could approach me at any time about anything.  I did not know how to put it into words at the time, but I was encouraging and strengthening trust within my team.

You have to sharpen both sides of the sword. On one side, you learn and improve yourself. On the other, you teach your guys so that they grow in the direction that they’re supposed to.

– GySgt Joshua Negron

Aside from war, I wanted my men to grow professionally and become great leaders themselves.  By the time I was a team leader with my second team, it wasn’t uncommon for a Recon Marine to be promoted to Sergeant within his first two years. It happened very quickly and was normal.  Afterwards though, it can take four to five years to get Staff Sergeant or more (laughs).  By this time, I had eight years in as a newly promoted Staff Sergeant. My main goal was to train my men to be better by the end of that deployment, as Sergeants with three and a half years in the Marine Corps, than I was as a Sergeant when I was at my seven-year mark.

This was possible because I was giving them information willingly and freely. I wasn’t withholding anything from them, but at the same time, I’m also not fire hosing them with information.  As simple as this is, it was not very common from what I previously saw in the infantry. What I saw were a lot of keepers of the badge. At the time when I was a junior Marine there wasn’t a whole lot of mentoring going on, and if there was, it was very little. It was only,” I’m going to give you just enough information to where you learn something, but I’m also going to purposely withhold information from you because I don’t want you to grow beyond and possibly outshine me.”

You have to sharpen both sides of the sword. On one side, you learn and improve yourself. On the other, you teach your guys so that they grow in the direction that they’re supposed to.  This rarely happens as everything in the military is performance driven. The byproduct of freely teaching and giving all information by default forces that leader to take a deeper look into themselves and identify what they’re deficient in and find ways to improve. Otherwise, if this step is missed as a leader who freely mentors their personnel without withholding, eventually their men and woman are going to grow past them – resulting in promotions above them.  If I’m going to keep up with them, I’ve got to continue to look deeper into myself and see what I can make better.

This is the way of giving back to the community.

A true leader doesn’t make more subordinates, they make more leaders.  They’re humble in nature and they take responsibility over things that aren’t even their fault in regard to those within their command. They’re stern when needed but also compassionate towards those they lead.  Members of any command are not just numbers to do your bidding as a leader, they are family – the lifeline and heartbeat of the community.  If this is lost, you lose trust, and if that’s lost, you have nothing as a leader.  You will use your men and woman as tools to build and promote yourself instead of using your position and instruments to further develop, and hone those that you are blessed to lead.  This is Esprit de Corps, this is Gung Ho!

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Negron with his incredible wife, Erika.

What special operations skillset came most naturally to you?

The things that came most naturally to me was shooting and really just being and operating in the bush – your basic infantry concepts and tactics. And really anything related to R&S (reconnaissance and surveillance) and SR (special reconnaissance).

I kind of had a knack for it even though I have a love-hate relationship with R&S because it always involved carrying a pack that was over 100 pounds, deuce gear that was like another 50 pounds, and then my weapon. I practically carried myself in body weight every single time we stepped out (laughs). I kind of hated that aspect of it, but I loved once we got on site and we started our reporting, started collecting information on our target site. I just love that aspect of it.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to treat your training like it’s real.  You never know when it will be.  Plus, during training you’re always competing against your counterparts that are inserting into the bush as well – oftentimes with you – but they’re just taking another piece of the objective. And so, you have that friendly competition going, but at the same time, you’re both performing exceptionally well and doing a great job on target site. So, you’re adhering to the Recon creed of honoring those who came before.

Which skillset took the most work to master in spite of not being very good at it initially?

Things that I wasn’t that great at? Well, I was never really that fast in the water and I’m still not that fast in the water.

Diving (school) sucked for me, especially going into it with an injured ankle, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do. I just wasn’t fast in the water. Actually, one of my good buddies that I joined Recon with – he was a big dude at 6’4, 220-240lbs – he was slow on land but fast on the water, and I was slow in the water but fast on land. So, when we were getting thrashed in pre-BRC (Basic Reconnaissance Course), I was the one smiling on the runs because he was typically the last dude coming in. Then when we got to the pool, it reversed. I was like the last guy to finish while he was one of the first ones out.  He just sat on the pool side and laughed at me.

In a way, it motivated us to not quit. We both suffered in silence and suffered uniquely together, and that camaraderie bonded us. We both saw each other in some of our worst moments and our best moments as we fought to solidify our place within the Recon community.

Do you have a favorite place that you’ve visited?

Deployment-wise, I would have loved to have seen more of Australia, but unfortunately didn’t get to see too much during one quick stop in Darwin.

Dubai was cool and that area was really nice.

I really like anything with history, especially anything that has long history. So, when I went to Jordan, I got an opportunity to take a trip over to Petra. If you’ve ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s the city that’s carved into the rock. That’s Petra. The movie only shows one spot actually, but there are multiple places like that and it’s a massive city that’s carved into other rocks all around. It’s got a bunch of what seemed to me like hundreds or possibly thousands of little homes in between some of those larger dedicated sites.

What is something unique about you that most people don’t know?

As most men involved with self-defense, I was inspired by Bruce Lee.

My favorite film he did was “Enter the Dragon”. That was definitely one of the best ones for me, but I really enjoyed more of his documentaries and reading books on him – he is just very inspirational.

He obviously had this amazing physical ability that dazzled the world, but people who had the opportunity to meet him were oftentimes more impressed by his spoken words.

He wasn’t just a martial artist; he was poet, a father, a husband, who lived and embodied a warrior spirit that is very uncommon.  At the end of it all Bruce did not embrace the illusion of fame, he wanted to be remembered as a real human being who was fully alive.  In his own words, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
GySgt Joshua Negron. (Photo credit: Lloyd Wainscott)
MIGHTY CULTURE

Pride Month: celebrating all who served

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Both women Veterans and Veterans with LGBT and related identities underuse VA care. That makes now an important time to bring attention to the unique needs of Veterans with LGBT and related identities.

VA proudly welcomes all Veterans. VA’s Women’s Health Services and the LGBT Health Program offer resources that can help.

There are more than two million women Veterans and an estimated one million lesbian, gay and bisexual Veterans in the United States.


Veterans with LGBT and related identities are less likely to seek out routine health care, largely due to fear of discrimination. This can lead to long-term health problems. Examples include a higher risk for mental health issues and suicidal thoughts than their non-LGBT peers.

VA is working to create an environment where Veterans with LGBT or related identities feel comfortable talking openly with providers about sexual orientation, gender identity, and mental and physical health challenges.

Safe to share your information

VA’s health care professionals have been trained to keep your information confidential. It is always safe to share your sexual orientation and gender identity with your provider. This is true, even if you have not come out to family or friends.

Being open with your provider about your identity helps VA offer you the best care possible.

If you are not comfortable speaking with your provider about sexual orientation or gender identity, or you think your provider is uncomfortable with these topics, there are ways VA can help.

Each VA facility has an LGBT Veterans care coordinator (VCC) and Women Veterans Program manager who can help you find a provider to fit your needs. To find your local LGBT VCC or see what support and resources your facility offers, visit https://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/VAFacilities.asp.

Services available

Other VA health care services that may help Veterans with LGBT and related identities include:

  • Hormone treatment
  • Substance use/alcohol treatment
  • Tobacco use treatment
  • Treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections/PrEP
  • Intimate partner violence reduction and treatment
  • Heart health
  • Cancer screening, prevention and treatment
  • Help with infertility or family planning

All Veterans should have access to a safe and welcoming environment that takes your unique needs into account. This June and throughout the year, we celebrate and support all who have served.

To learn about health risks and why you should talk to your provider about your sexual orientation identity, birth sex, and self-identified gender identity, visit the fact sheets below:

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 5 types of troops you’ll see heading to the bunker

One of the most common types of attacks troops will experience while deployed is a mortar attack, otherwise known as indirect fire. When this happens, protocol states that all troops must seek cover inside the nearest bunker.


Depending on where a troop is stationed, they’ll run into a wide variety of troops from different units on their way to that bunker — all of whom react to IDF very differently.

How a troop reacts says a lot about them as a warfighter and the kind of unit they’re in. You’re likely to see these troops — who span the gamut from POG to grunt — when you hear the IDF siren go off:

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Sorry if fighting this nation’s wars is “inconvenient” for you.

(Via Navymemes)

1. Scared little “fobbit” troops

This person is either newly in theatre or enlisted with zero intentions of fighting. Not to discredit entire branches, but based on personal experience, they’re typically Airmen or Sailors on shore duty. Not the corpsman, though — corpsmen aren’t POGs.

Now, you might not see them cry, but they’re definitely going to jump when someone else enters the bunker. Be warned, when you’re in the bunker with them, you’re probably going to have to talk them down from a panic attack. 

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

They will also unironically think they’re not actually a POG. But, you know… they still are.

2. The overzealous hero troops

This dude is ready for war! This guy managed to get in full-battle before making his way to the bunker. He’s just waiting on the word to go from Amber to Red at any moment, despite never being given the order to get out of Green.

Nobody wants to tell the guy that after you hear the boom, things get boring again. This is probably the closest this person will get to real combat and they want to take full advantage of the moment. Ten years from now, they’ll probably share this “war story” to people at the bar while trying to score some free drinks.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Or they’re the type of person that slowly walks to the bunker just to catch someone else walking slowly to the bunker.

(Via Decelerate Your Life)

3. The calm rule-follower

This is the category a large majority of the NCOs and senior officers fall into. The siren goes off and they help usher others into the bunker with them. They know they have to keep a calm demeanor or else it’ll freak out the fobbits and agitate the eager hero.

The only downside to this person is that they’ll always start arguing with the next two guys on this list.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

And 9 times out of 10, they’re a Specialist or a Lance Corporal.

(Via PNN)

4. The reluctant slacker troops

This person really doesn’t want to go to bunker — but the rule-follower is looking, so they have to. They’ve been in-country for a while and they know that things are going to be okay… Probably. The only thing that’s going through their mind is a weighing of options. They’ll be busy thinking about if they want to risk an asschewing, the odds of that mortar hitting where they’re at, and if they want to pretend they “didn’t hear” the siren go off.

7 times out of 10, they’ll just go to the bunker for an accountability formation and dip before the all-clear siren goes off. They’re probably out for a smoke, which they’ll either jokingly offer to the fobbit or blow in the direction of the rule-follower who made them leave their hut.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Truly, they’re the best of us.

5. The sleeping grunt

It’s been months since this grunt gave their last f*ck. These guys have truly reached the max level of gruntness; ass-chewings and the threat of death don’t give this troop pause.

It was probably funny going to the bunker to laugh at everyone the first eighty-seven times, but now they’d rather get a little bit more sleep.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Footage shows Russian ammo depot explosion that launched debris 9 miles

An ammo depot in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia has been the scene of a series of large explosions over the past two weeks, killing one Russian soldier and injuring at least 32 other people thus far.

The first massive explosion occurred last Monday, killing one and injuring at least ten others. Then, two more large explosions tore through the facility on Friday, reportedly as a result of lightning due to the facility’s lightning management apparatus being destroyed in the previous explosions. Multiple smaller explosions have also been reported at the facility during the intervening days, resulting in more than 16,000 people being evacuated from nearby communities.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61eQmFBLjdc
MASSIVE Explosions at Ammunition Depot – Achinsk, Russia – Aug. 5, 2019

youtu.be

Soldiers assigned to Russia’s “74008 military unit,” as officials called them, were ordered to take cover in bomb shelters until the explosions stopped.

According to Russian state media, the facility housed thousands of artillery shells and propellant bags filled with explosive material used to launch the artillery. While Russian authorities have not offered any detailed explanation as to what may have caused the incident, at least one Russian Defense Ministry official cited “human error” as the preliminary cause of the first explosion, pending a more thorough investigation.

The local governor’s office offered only slightly more detail, explaining that the first explosion took place during “shell clearing” operations. That, combined with reports of two “disposal sights” that are still burning, suggests that the munitions involved in the explosion may have been old and awaiting disposal. This possibility is bolstered by the fact that the site of the explosion is among Russia’s oldest existing munition storage and logistic sites, dating back to its use by the Soviet Union. The entire facility is slated for demolition in 2022.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Russia’s Uran-14 Robot can supposedly fight fires and clear mines. Two have been deployed to Achinsk.

(Russian Ministry of Defense via WikiMedia Commons)

Russian firefighting efforts, which are already largely taxed by a series of large wildfires in the Siberian forest, are reportedly being bolstered by Uran-14 firefighting robots that, according to Russian state media, can spray water a distance of up to 180 feet and move up to ten tons of debris.

These claims, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, as Russia also once claimed their Uran-6 infantry robot had successfully participated in combat operations in Syria, only for it to be revealed months later that the robot had actually been a dismal failure.

Unfortunately for the Russian military, these explosions are not the highest-profile incident to occur last week, with another explosion at a missile test site that seems to have involved Russia’s much-touted nuclear-powered cruise missile claiming the lives of at least five and injuring a number of others.

Articles

This famous author started his career drawing timeless cartoons as a drafted US troop

A note from a 1955 Ballantine Book remarked about how one author – a former serviceman – arrived in their New York offices with his Stars and Stripes drawings and a story of a “brilliant military career, where he rose through the ranks to become a PFC.”


That newly-minted civilian was Shel Silverstein. And he did rise through the ranks to become one of the most celebrated American writers.

A quick perusal of the books on his website will show a body of work that uses all his many talents.

For decades, Silverstein entertained and delighted children with poetry like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and stories like “Giraffe and a Half.” His children’s book “The Giving Tree” is widely considered one of the best, though to some divisive, of its genre.

But there is at least one book missing from that list.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

It was during his time in the military that Silverstein began to draw cartoons, at times finding himself at odds with military censors. He later wrote enough cartoons to make a compendium of his best works.

“Drop Your Socks” was published in 1955 to the delight and entertainment of the new peacetime Army and the old war veterans alike.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

The young artist was attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts when he was drafted into the Army in 1953. According to his biography in “Stars and Stripes,” the Army “without realizing its error, assigned him to the Pacific Stars and Stripes, read by thousands of Army men in Japan and Korea.”

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

But Shel Silverstein didn’t join the Army of WWII or Korea. It was a new Army, one not at war, but supposedly at the ready to fight for peace. Silverstein never knew the Army that “fought the wars with live ammo and read V-mail and liberated towns and kissed French girls and caught bouquets and wore baggy pants and a six-day growth of beard.”

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

Shel Silverstein’s Army was made up of “ordinary guys” who “dragged through two years [the amount of time a peacetime draftee normally spent in the service] cleaning grease traps, bugging out of details, and forgetting their general orders.”

As he wrote in the book’s introduction, “there’s no war now, no casualties, no rationing, and no immediate danger … people’s attitudes are bound to change.”

Sound familiar?

But legendary military cartoonist Bill Mauldin, in writing the book’s introduction said, “the thing about real military humor is that when a soldier says something funny, he is mainly trying to ventilate his innards … he expresses himself in a wisecrack because if he said it straight, he’d simply bust down.”

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports

“Motives and methods of warfare change from generation to generation,” Mauldin continues. “But soldiering stays pretty much the same messy proposition. … I suspect Shel Silverstein would have amused the cootie-pickingest Roman centurion.”

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

What life is like for ISIS’ child soldiers

Recruited as a child soldier into Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Lal Mohammed accompanied his elder teenage brother, Bakht e Ali and their father, Taweez Khan, into the training and indoctrination for a promised life of religious glory. They lived for almost two years as members of the Wilayet e Khorasan, or Islamic State Khorasan Province, in Eastern Afghanistan.


“I was nine years old when I was with them. Now I am 12. They used to show us videos on how to fight and carry out suicide bombings,” Mohammad said.

His older brother was around 16 when he joined the militant group.

Islamic State, known regionally as ISKP, emerged in the region in early 2015. Most originally belonged to the Pakistani Taliban, which had been displaced from their stronghold in Pakistan’s tribal areas by a military operation.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
An Afghan village elder directs a crowd of eager school children as Afghan Special Security Forces arrive to distribute school supplies in Shadel village, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2017. ASSF drove ISIS from the village during fall offensive operations, allowing the locals to regain their farmland and re-open schools. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Klene)

Across the border in Afghanistan, 15 years of war had left vast swathes of territory without government. The age-old Pashtun tradition of welcoming guests helped them find shelter in the homes of local Shinwari tribesmen, who had been refugees during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and were eager to return the favor.

Eastern Afghanistan, particularly Nangarhar province, became an IS stronghold.

Later, many of those who provided shelter had to flee with their families, often leaving their belongings behind.

“When Daesh (ISKP) came to our area, most people already sympathized with them,” Ali said. “Our tribal elders and religious clerics started backing them. Daesh commanders started sitting with us in our homes. They would show us videos of the infidels oppressing Muslims.”

The militants told the locals their police and army were puppets of infidels and they needed to rise up in jihad, a holy war. Some of the locals, like Khan and his sons, joined their ranks.

Life with ISKP

Life with ISKP for the boys was regimented. They woke up before dawn to offer morning prayers, followed by religious lessons focused on jihad, then daily chores, and, finally, weapons training.

Ali recalled around 100 to 150 kids who lived and trained with them, including some who were under 10 years old, like his brother, Mohammad.

I saw it with my own eyes. They used to tell these young kids that if they carried out suicide bombings, all their troubles would be over and they would go straight to paradise. They were so good at indoctrination that any child who listened to them for a month would not listen to anyone else.

All the children’s needs, clothing, weapons, food, were taken care of. Khan, their father, received a salary from ISKP.

The two brothers remember their training to be very disciplined. The ultimate goal was to make them suicide bombers.

One day, they took the younger brother on a mission. “Daesh fighters told me we were going to be in a firefight, and that they would stay behind and open fire from the check post. I should go forward and explode my suicide vest,” Mohammad said.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
An Afghan boy receives a school bag from Afghan national army soldiers and a Marine special operations company’s team members. The ANA and MSOC unit were visiting a Helmand province village in late February. (Courtesy PhotoNATO Training Mission Afghanistan 2008)

ISKP lost that fight and had to retreat. He came back alive.

The militants focused on molding young minds by showing videos and playing militant music to increase the boys’ sense of affiliation with IS. The brothers said the idea of being part of something bigger than themselves, a battle between good and evil, felt good.

‘We wanted to slaughter someone’

Militants punished anyone who did not follow their fundamentalist brand of sharia. “We’ve seen torture. We’ve seen it happening to our own friends or relatives,” Ali recalled.

He also recalled how normal it was to kill someone.

We saw a lot of people get slaughtered. We also wanted to slaughter someone because we were told that this would bring us holy rewards from God. People who disagreed with Daesh were slaughtered.

Also Read: Twin bombings in Baghdad kill 38, shatter post-IS calm

Khan said, “Sometimes, they would tie people’s hands and feet, and then slaughter them. Sometimes they would hang a man from a tree and just leave him there to die. Sometimes they would just beat someone up with batons ’til he died,” he said.

Escaping from the militants

Not everyone was happy with the militants, but if someone tried to escape, ISKP militants usually went after them to punish or kill them.

Despite that danger, and the promises of heaven and glorious rewards from God, the father and sons said the atrocities became too much for them to handle.

Khan described a growing sense of alienation from the group, which he started seeing as foreigners oppressing his countrymen.

“These men from TTP (Pakistani Taliban) started working here as IS. They started taking land and trees from the locals as spoils of war,” he said. “They used to kidnap Afghanis to get ransom,” he added.

Eventually, Khan decided to take his sons, and some other men under his command, and escape to a government-controlled area. They surrendered to local police. He now works with the police.

“Even now, if IS finds out we are here, they will find us and kill us,” Ali said.

Partially paralyzed sailor finds release in adaptive sports
Afghan kids take a moment to smile for the camera. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, they have no idea of the fate of dozens of other child soldiers who were living with ISKP.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Taliban have also trained and deployed scores of children for military operations and used them to plant homemade bombs.

The United Nations has documented the use of child soldiers by Afghan police.

In December last year, the Afghan government signed an initiative called the Child Protection Policy, with the aim of protecting children in conflict zones, including barring its security forces from using children in armed conflict.

But for children like Ali and Mohammad, there is no effective program to de-radicalize and re-integrate them into society. Now, Bakht e Ali works as a security guard, while Lal Mohammad stays at home and has not joined school again.

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