The Islamic State is “dead set” on using chemical weapons attacks, including sulfur-mustard gas, to endanger U.S. troops and blunt or delay the long-planned offensive to retake Mosul in northwestern Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
“I think we can fully expect, as this road toward Mosul progresses, ISIL is likely to try to use it again,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. “They are dead set on it.”
Last week, ISIS fighters fired an artillery shell near U.S. troops at the Qayyarah West airfield, about 40 miles southeast of Mosul, that was initially suspected of having traces of sulfur-mustard blistering agent. There were no deaths or injuries in the incident.
In a briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon last Friday, Army Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that first test of an oily substance on shell fragments was positive, a second test was negative, and a third was inconclusive.
“We have no conclusive evidence” that mustard gas was used, Dorrian said. He said more tests were being conducted.
However, Kurdish peshmerga forces participating in the “shaping operations” for the Mosul offensive said last year that ISIS fired mortar shells suspected of containing mustard gas at their positions about 20 miles east of the Qayyarah airfield. ISIS is also suspected of using chlorine gas in Syria.
Earlier this month, U.S. and coalition aircraft carried out strikes against a former pharmaceutical factory in Mosul that ISIS was suspected of having turned into a chemical weapons complex.
At the Pentagon, Davis said ISIS “would love to use chemical weapons against us and against the Iraqis as they move forward, and we are making every effort to make sure we are ready for it.”
U.S. troops in Iraq have access to gas masks and Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear to protect against chemical attacks.
In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, troops carried masks and MOPP suits with them at all times and frequently had to don them as alarms went off on the possibility that chemical weapons were in the area.
Later U.S. inspections and reports found that Iraq had stopped producing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.
“We fully recognize that this is something that ISIL has done before,” Davis said of the possibility of chemical attacks. “They have done it many times, at least a couple of dozen that we know of, where they have launched crude, makeshift munitions that are filled with this mustard agent.”
“That is not something we view as militarily significant, but obviously it is further evidence that ISIL knows no boundaries when it comes to their conduct on the battlefield,” he said.
In addition to U.S. troops having access to gas masks and MOPP gear, Davis said the U.S. has distributed more than 50,000 kits of personal protective gear for Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
In the Mosul offensive, American advisers are expected to move closer to the battlefront. The Defense Department has authorized U.S. commanders to place advisers with the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish peshmerga at the battalion level.
In his briefing last Friday, Dorrian said eight to 12 brigades of the Iraqi Security Forces were “ready to go” against Mosul, where ISIS has had nearly two years to build up defenses. The U.S. estimates that the group “no longer is able to mass enough forces to stop the advance” on the city, and its fighters are experiencing “flagging morale” from the loss of territory and the unrelenting coalition airstrikes, Dorrian said.
U.S. airstrikes recently destroyed an estimated 29 ISIS boats on the Tigris River and also blew up a bridge over which the group’s vehicles were attempting to escape, he said.
To defend Mosul, ISIS has built “intricate defenses,” including elaborate tunnel networks and interconnected layers of improvised explosive devices along likely “avenues of approach” to the city, Dorrian said.
The U.S. has also seen reports that ISIS has dug trenches and filled them with oil to be set on fire once the offensive begins. “They’ve built a hell on earth around themselves,” he said.
BRUSSELS — EU monitors have identified a “trilateral convergence of disinformation narratives” being promoted by China, Iran, and Russia on the coronavirus pandemic and say they are being “multiplied” in a coordinated manner, according to an internal document seen by RFE/RL.
The document, which is dated 20 April, says common themes are that the coronavirus is a biological weapon created in the United States to bring down opponents and that China, Iran, and Russia “are doing much better than the West” in fighting the epidemic.
It also states that Iranian leaders — amplified by Russian media — continue calling for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran, claiming that they are undermining the country’s humanitarian and medical response to COVID-19.
The document says this is part of a wider Russian, Iranian, and Chinese “convergence” calling for a lifting of sanctions on Russia, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela — all countries that have seen U.S. economic sanctions against them increase under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
In the case of Syria, the COVID-19 disinformation is used “to reinforce an anti-EU narrative that claims the bloc is perpetrating an “economic war” on the Middle Eastern country.
The 25-page document was written by the strategic communications division of the European diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS).
It is a follow-up to an April report stating that Russia and China are deploying a campaign of disinformation around the coronavirus pandemic that could have “harmful consequences” for public health around the world.
The new report says Russia and to a lesser extent China continue to amplify “conspiracy narratives” aimed at both public audiences in the EU and the wider neighborhood. It further notes that official Russian sources and state media continue running a coordinated campaign aimed at undermining the EU and its crisis response and at sowing confusion about the health implications of COVID-19.
The document also states that most of the content identified by the EEAS continues to proliferate widely on social-media services such as Twitter and Facebook. It alleges that Google and other services that deliver advertisements “continue to monetise and incentivise harmful health disinformation by hosting paid ads on respective websites.”
Representatives of those companies did not immediately respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment.
According to analysis by the team, disinformation about the virus is going particularly viral in smaller media markets both inside and outside the EU in which technology giants “face lower incentives to take adequate countermeasures.”
It adds that false or highly misleading content in languages such as Czech, Russian, and Ukrainian continues to go viral even when it has been flagged by local fact-checkers.
The idea of turning “swords into ploughshares” — that is to say, converting military technology and/or equipment into materials with a peaceful civilian purpose — is a very old concept. The phrase comes from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah 2:3-4:
And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This is where Sword Plough draws its name. The company sells unique designer handbags and accessories made from discarded military surplus items. Co-founded by the daughters of a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, Col. (ret.) Joseph Núñez, Sword Plough is a veteran-owned-and-operated business, dedicated to hiring and supporting veterans.
One daughter, Emily Núñez Cavness, is SP’s CEO, and is also an active duty Army 1st. Lt. serving with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Emily co-founded Sword Plough with her sister Betsy Núñez, who is the Chief Operations Officer.
“We have received such an incredibly positive and supportive response from our community,” Núñez Cavness says. “We’re still a young company, but we’re growing fast and we have a lot happening in the new year. In addition to expanding our product line, we have a number of exciting brand partnerships in the works and we’re planning to grow our wholesale business to brick and mortar shops throughout the country.”
“What sets Sword Plough apart is our commitment to a quadruple bottom line,” she continues. “People, Purpose, Planet, Profit. This means that we are simultaneously focused on improving veteran employment and supporting American jobs, bridging the civilian-military gap, repurposing surplus material, and donating 10% of our profits back to veteran organizations.”
One of their biggest passions is supporting veteran entrepreneurship.
“Betsy and I grew up on Army posts across the country and we couldn’t be more excited to be able to give back to the military and veteran community,” Núñez Cavness says. “One of the most rewarding parts of both serving in the Army and leading Sword Plough is the ability I have to bring the knowledge of starting a business to the veteran community. Many soldiers and veterans approach me with exciting ideas and ask for advice on how to start. Mentoring aspiring veteran entrepreneurs is one of my favorite things to do. Veterans already have so many of the leadership and management skills necessary to be successful in entrepreneurship or business. It is such an energizing experience to help chart realistic pathways to bring their ideas to reality.”
Since launching in 2013, Sword Plough repurposed over 35,000 pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, donated 10 percent of profits annually, and shipped over 10,000 products globally. Not a bad startup period.
Their father commanded Army forces at the company and battalion level, taught political science at West Point, and deployed to Haiti in 1994 in support of Operations Restore Democracy and Uphold Democracy. Their uncle, Kenneth Cameron, served in the Marine Corps. Cameron is a retired Colonel and was an aviator, test pilot, engineer, and NASA astronaut who piloted three missions to outer space.
Being from such a strong military family, Emily Núñez Cavness is herself an ROTC graduate of Middlebury College. She recalls her introduction to the civilian-military divide, which happened as she walked to a military science class one morning.
“I was abruptly stopped when an upperclassman walked out of the fine arts building,” she says. “He meandered toward me and asked, ‘Hi there, What play are you in?! I’ve never seen you around here.’ I didn’t have a lot of time to talk since I’d be late for my class, so I quickly explained that my uniform was not in fact a costume, but my actual government issued uniform for Army ROTC.”
This would be the first of many instances to leave an impression on her. They would come to help influence Sword Plough’s mission to empower veteran employment and bridge that divide in any way they can. But it doesn’t stop there. The summer after her sophomore year at Middlebury, Núñez Cavness found herself at the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“Even though I grew up in a military family on several Army Posts, this was the first time I was training next to Soldiers as a fellow service member rather than as a military kid,” she recalls. “We would spend almost every day quickly running from place to place in our helmets and boots, only to wait for hours under the hot sun until it was our turn to practice the parachute landing fall or how to properly pull a slip.”
1st Lt. Emily Núñez Cavness
“It didn’t take long for these periods of downtime to become some of my favorite moments of the course because it was then that the students to my left and right would open up to me about their past experiences in the Army and their goals and hopes for the future. Some expressed an interest in leaving the military in the near future but were seriously worried about their job prospects after talking to veteran friends who had been unemployed for a long time after leaving military service. At the time, I didn’t always know what to say, but I never forgot those conversations. It seemed like such an injustice to me that a group of people who had sacrificed so much and become such proven leaders would face this type of adversity.”
Fast forward one and a half years and Núñez Cavness is listening to Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, give her keynote speech during Middlebury’s first Social Entrepreneurship Symposium. She was talking about a business which incorporated recycling into its business model. The talk had young Núñez Cavness’ mind running 100 miles per hour.
“The way she described it immediately made me reflect on my own life,” Núñez Cavness said. “I asked myself, ‘what in my life is wasted on daily basis that could be harnessed and made into something beautiful?’ Having grown up on Army posts, I immediately thought back to the huge piles of military surplus I used to see that were going to be buried in a landfill or burned. As I looked around the audience, I noticed that every student had a backpack or bag of some kind propped up next to them. And then… it clicked! Why don’t I take the military surplus that would otherwise be discarded and turn it into stylish bags?”
Their newer Wool Handbag and Wool Crossbody are also very popular items.
As part of its dedication to giving back to veterans, Sword Plough makes financial contributions to veteran-focused organizations like Rocky Mountain Human Services, Feeding Our Vets, and Got Your 6. They support charitable organizations by donating their products for fundraisers.
These donations have helped recipients raise thousands of dollars through blind and live auctions. They also donate products to events which can raise general public awareness about veterans’ issues and the civil-military divide. To date, they have made more than $10,000 worth of product donations to organizations like the Navy SEAL Foundation, the 3rd and Goal Foundation, the Headstrong Project, and more.
Núñez Cavness designed the first three bags herself, but Sword Plough now has a creative director to design products. They also have a number of products designed by veterans.
“The military relies on cutting edge gear and technology to carry out its missions,” Núñez Cavness says. “This relationship with their equipment has definitely influenced the way we think about design and fashion. We repurpose military surplus equipment not only for the environmental benefits and vintage appeal, but also for its durability. Our team draws inspiration from cities that we live in, the people that we interact with, the feedback from the SP community of supporters, the history of the materials we use, and we try to honor tradition by constantly innovating and keeping functionality in mind.”
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
The Pentagon was more cautious, calling it a “probable” missile launch. Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman said, “We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea” at approximately 1:30 p.m. EST. He said the Pentagon is assessing the situation and has no further information to provide, including what kind of missile may have been launched.
It would be the first North Korean missile test since it launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sept. 15 that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
The White House says President Donald Trump has been briefed on North Korea’s apparent ballistic missile launch.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders says in a tweet that Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”
At the time of the launch, Trump was in a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The Pentagon says it detected and tracked a single North Korean missile launch and believes it was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said Nov. 28 that the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan.
Manning says the Pentagon’s information is based on an initial assessment of the launch. He says a more detailed assessment was in the works.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says North Korea has fired a missile that might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Yoshihide Suga says the missile appears to have been fired from North Korea’s western coast and the government is gathering information and analyzing the launch data.
Suga says repeated provocation by the North is unacceptable and Tokyo has lodged a strong protest.
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho. (U.N. photo by Mark Garten)
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho says the government has told the North Koreans “that we criticize their behavior in the strongest terms possible” following a new missile launch.
He told reporters Nov. 28 at U.N. headquarters that “we are very concerned and we have condemned them publicly.”
U.N. Security Council President Sebastiano Cardi says he has been in contact with key U.N. members, but no request has been made yet for a meeting.
Cardi says he is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Nov. 29.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says the missile might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Cardi says if it fell in that zone, it would be an “even greater” danger.
President Donald Trump says the United States will “take care of it” following North Korea’s latest missile launch.
Trump told reporters Nov. 28 that “it is a situation that we will handle.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says North Korea is continuing to build missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world.”
Mattis says a missile that North Korea launched early Nov. 29 local time flew higher than its previous projectiles. He says South Korea has fired pinpoint missiles into surrounding waters to make certain that North Korea understands it can be “taken under fire” by the South.
He says North Korea is endangering world peace, regional peace, and “certainly the United States.”
North Korea ended a 10-week pause in its weapons testing and threatened to heighten regional tensions by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan.
Mattis spoke Nov. 28 during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and the top Republican congressional leaders.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch.
Italy chairs the council and its spokesman says the Nov. 29 afternoon meeting was requested by Japan, the U.S., and South Korea.
The Security Council has already imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s government in response to its escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the U.S. and Japan are likely to seek even stronger measures.
The launch was possibly North Korea’s longest. It is certain to raise tensions in the U.N.’s most powerful body.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called North Korea’s latest missile test a “serious threat” to global peace and stressed the need for stronger sanctions and pressure against Pyongyang to discourage its nuclear ambitions.
Moon said Nov. 29 at a National Security Council meeting that the South will not “sit and watch” North Korea’s provocations and will work with the United States to strengthen its security.
Moon says South Korea anticipated the latest North Korean launch and prepared for it.
South Korea’s military conducted its own missile drills that started just minutes after North Korea’s launch was detected.
President Donald Trump is speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after North Korea launched what the Pentagon said was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted a photo of Trump on Nov. 28 in his office. He says Trump was “speaking with @JPN_PMO @AbeShinzo, regarding North Korea’s launch of a intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan…”
Abe says Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its alliance with the U.S.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has raised concerns that North Korea’s perfection of an intercontinental ballistic missile would let regional security “spiral out of control” and make the United States consider a pre-emptive strike against the North.
Seoul’s presidential office said Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to prevent a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens the South with nuclear weapons or the U.S. considers a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the threat.
Moon has called for his military to take further steps to strengthen its capabilities following a recent agreement between Seoul and Washington to lift the warhead payload limits on South Korean missiles.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has told government officials to “closely review” whether the latest North Korean missile launch will affect South Korean efforts to successfully host next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Seoul’s presidential office reported Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to find ways to “stably manage” the situation.
South Korean preparations for the February games have been overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests this year. France has said its Olympic team won’t travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.
South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the games to ease concerns, but it’s unclear whether the North will.
North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months.
President Donald Trump has spoken with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the countries’ response to North Korea’s latest missile launch.
The White House says both leaders “underscored the grave threat that North Korea’s latest provocation poses” not only to U.S. and South Korea, “but to the entire world.”
The two presidents also “reaffirmed their strong condemnation of North Korea’s reckless campaign to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, noting that these weapons only serve to undermine North Korea’s security and deepen its diplomatic and economic isolation.”
Trump and Moon spoke at length about the threat posed by North Korea during Trump’s trip to Asia earlier this month.
Let’s face it, today’s soldiers and Marines have a lot weighing on them.
Between gear, ammo, and weapons, some are carrying over 100 pounds. But how do you reduce that burden?
Barrett Firearms, which created the mighty M82A1 and M107 .50-caliber sniper rifles, has managed to do just that by improving the M240 medium machine gun. Now, the M240 is based on the FN MAG, which is is a classic machine gun used by many NATO allies.
This gun even replaced the M-60, which was the backbone of squad firepower for the U.S. military through Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The question comes: How do you improve a machine gun used by just about all of the Western world? The Army has developed the M240L, which uses titanium to lighten the gun, but they kept the riveted design, albeit with a 5-pound weight reduction.
However, Barrett managed make its 240LW medium machine gun five and half pounds lighter than the M240B without the use of exotic materials. The secret was in how they made the receiver. Barrett machined the receiver from forgings and welded them together, according to a brochure handed out at the National Defense Industry Association’s 2017 Armament Systems Forum.
Not only did this reduce the number of components from 64 to two, it also helped take about five and half pounds off the machine gun. The change also has boosted the reliability of the gun – by removing the rivets – which can be shaken loose by firing thousands of rounds.
There’s also less metal, due to the fact that there is no need to overlap the metal components.
Will the 240LW make an impact with the United States military? That remains to be seen, but it does show how Barrett manages to be very innovative when it comes to designing – or improving – small arms.
If you’ve been on the internet at all for the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen news regarding the Facebook event “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” It started out mostly as a joke – if you couldn’t tell by the name of the group that’s hosting it being called “Sh*tposting cause im in shambles” and the only actual plan set forward is to “Naruto run faster than their bullets.” Even the date of September 20th is a reference to the anniversary of Leeroy Jenkins storming Upper Blackrock Spire by himself in World of Warcraft.
That was until, at the time of writing this article, 1.6 million people clicked “Going,” another 1.2 million are “Interested,” and a four-star general at the Pentagon had to be debriefed by some poor lower-enlisted soldier about the intricacies of a 1997 Japanese manga series about a teenage ninja with a fox demon inside him.
Which begs the question: “But what if it wasn’t a joke?” Well. It’s really circumstantial.
Something tells me that this place will probably undo most of the plans to storm Area 51.
(Screengrab via YouTube)
Absolutely nothing happens
Anyone who’s ever thrown a party using Facebook’s Event page can tell you that not all people are going to show up. Of the supposedly millions that said they’d be willing to attend, I can safely say that it will be nowhere near that number in reality.
In case there are those people that ordered a plane ticket to Nevada and are too stubborn to cancel, it doesn’t look likely either. It’s still going to be a logistical nightmare. The meet-up location at the Area 51 Tourist Attraction is still 72.4 miles from the actual “Area 51.” Unless you drove there or are renting a car, there’s no way in hell anyone is willing to walk that distance in the Nevada desert for a joke.
Everyone gets there, makes a few videos for YouTube, and goes their merry way and this all becomes a funny joke that we reference every now and then. For reference on where this meet up is supposed to happen, the video below is where “millions” of people are supposedly going to congregate. Good luck with that.
Imagine wanting to raid Area 51 to see all the futuristic alien tech just to come face-to-face with a row of these…
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman First Class Lauren Main)
They can, in fact, stop all of them
This possibility is also semi-broken down into ways that it would end in complete failure. The only difference is where the raid is stopped.
My personal guess for most likely scenario on this list is that local law enforcement would probably break up the unlawful gathering outside of a middle-of-nowhere gift shop/brothel long before anyone made a move to storm the actual installation. Given the potential crowd gathering with the sole intent on committing a federal crime, the police will probably be on scene with riot gear ready.
If, by some stretch of the imagination, the raid manages to not get stopped somewhere in the desert or single road onto the installation, they’ll be greeted by armed guards along the way. The defense contractors currently guarding the site would probably have their numbers bolstered from troops at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and more.
The same rules of engagement that govern military operations would still likely apply. Violently engaging with a crowd of American citizens would be the absolute final resort if this line in the sand had to be reached. The “cammo dudes” today normally shoo away would-be onlookers without the use of deadly force. Anyone who’s made it this far would more than likely be detained without trouble.
But, you know, the use of deadly force IS authorized for just such an occasion…
Face it. The Fermi Paradox is real. If intergalactic aliens exist out there, they wouldn’t give a flying f*ck about stopping by Earth. Would you care about stopping by an anthill lifetimes out of your way?
(Image Credit: NASA)
Full and official disclosure (of how boring Groom Lake actually is)
Okay. Let’s finally get this out of the way because the mystery surrounding Area 51 is so enticing that it’s spawned countless conspiracy theories about what actually happens over there. Here goes…
There’s no way in hell that this could work as advertised. No amount of Kyles to punch the drywall out of the fence or Karens to speak to the managers will get you a Banshee from the Halo series. And I hate to break it to the other anime fans out there, but even by the show’s standards, if they’re still are able to casually have a conversation with each other while running at top speeds – they haven’t broken the sound barrier (at 1,125 ft/s.) Most calibers of ammunition probably used by any guard are still much faster.
That doesn’t mean this could all be a waste. Even by some strange miracle they actually do manage not to get turned into paste on first sight, they’d probably be in the exact same boat as if one of the many Freedom of Information Act requests got approved. They’d learn that it’s not that interesting.
It’s officially known as Groom Lake, and it’s just a testing ground far enough away from any civilian interference for top-secret aircraft like the U-2 spy plane and the precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird. Logically speaking, the timelines match up with “suspected” UFO sightings. Through the use of Google Satellite, you can also see countless craters in the ground still leftover from missile testing. The only reason they’re out there is because it’s one of the most remote locations in the continental U.S.The U.S. military is still developing new top-secret aircraft and missiles, and the area is still marked off for that reason. CIA documents released in 2013 showed this.
However, the large crowd outside their gates (or the possibility of a large crowd) could be enough for the government to go on record to say that there’s nothing extraterrestrial going on.
On a muggy summer day in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a Marine Corps instructor stood on a ledge overlooking a swamp. He looked out at his students, and his eyes found Master Sgt. Aretha Boston — the only airman in the platoon.
He called her forward, and Boston walked up to the ledge.
“Just as soon as I extended my hand, he grabbed it,” Boston recalled. “And before I knew it, he was pulling me into the swamp.”
For Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, it was another of many surprises at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course. The opportunity to attend the course was a surprise in itself.
Most surprising, though, was how well she performed. At graduation time, Boston took home three of the most prestigious awards at the school: the class Gunnery Sergeant Award (voted on by instructors), the Honor Graduate Award (voted on by her classmates), and the Distinguished Graduate Award (for measured academic excellence).
In some ways, though, it was a fitting chapter in a storied career that almost never was.
Coming from a small town in Florida, Boston’s life plan didn’t involve joining the military. Her mother, though, had different ideas. She insisted that her daughter enlist.
Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, poses for a portrait Oct. 24, 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Boston.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Noah Sudolcan)
“To be completely honest, in the beginning I was angry,” Boston said. Despite her misgivings, at the age of 17 and straight out of high school, she begrudgingly agreed and enlisted in the Air Force to become a dental technician. Years later, she said she views it as “by far the best decision my parents could have made for me.”
Boston’s first base was 7,479 miles from home: Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. She was away from her family, the only airman basic in the dental clinic and learning a whole new lifestyle. Over those first few months, she learned the technical portion of her job, but she said she struggled with the challenge of conforming to military discipline.
“I acted out a lot,” Boston said. “I didn’t want people to tell me to do something. I was very stubborn.”
After serving a year in Korea, she moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Dealing with the culture shock coming from Korea, she said she found it hard to connect with people.
Her first Christmas break in Florida started with a call from her first sergeant asking why she wasn’t at bay orderly — an extra duty to help clean the dorm common areas. Thinking she had the week off, she said it all seemed unfair.
“The first shirt sat me down and told me, ‘Listen, I’ve been told you’re a stellar airman, but you have a terrible attitude,'” she said. When he told her that an unchecked bad attitude could end up getting her kicked out of the military, she said she decided to make some changes.
“That was my turning point,” she said. “From then on, I did the best I could to be the best airman.”
The new attitude paid off. Several years — and promotions — later, everything was going well. But Boston said she craved something different. A new challenge. Something to separate herself from her peers. She was comfortable, standing on the solid ground of a well-constructed military career, but she was contemplating a big jump.
Air Force Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, middle left, poses with her Marine Corps classmates during the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course in the summer of 2018.
She found out the Air Force offers the chance for master sergeants to attend a sister service academy. She applied. Then she got accepted. The class started in the summer of 2018, and when she arrived, there were only six airmen in a sea of 120 Marines.
“(Marines) operate completely different from (airmen),” Boston explained. “Everything ties into fitness. Leadership, strategy planning — it always goes back to fitness.”
Physical training was every day, which she said was taxing on both her body and mind.
Those challenges culminated when, after a long morning run, the instructor pulled her into the swamp. With Marines cheering from the side, Boston remembers the feeling of being engulfed by the freezing water. After she and the rest of her class swam to the other side, a long obstacle course lay ahead of them.
Like all the other obstacles in Marine Corps senior NCO training, along with the hurdles of her early career, Boston faced them head on.
“It was pretty motivating to think she was an airman coming over to the course, doing something unprecedented,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Walker, Boston’s classmate and Marine Corps Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 warehouse managements division warehouse chief.
Walker said it would be natural to see a decrease in academic productivity in the individual taking on the busy role of class gunnery sergeant. But he said Boston had no such trouble. In fact, she still managed to excel beyond her peers – even the ones wearing Marine Corps insignia.
“She literally did everything you would expect from a Marine, pushing forward, even outside of class.” Walker said. “She carried herself as a professional the entire time and represented the Air Force well.”
When Toni Gross stood at the entrance of the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen, she had no idea what to expect.
The previous hours were a blur, filled with grief and disbelief. It was July 2011, and she and her husband and daughter learned that Army Cpl. Frank Gross, their only son and brother, had been killed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan.
He was 25. And just like that, a mere few weeks into deployment, he was gone.
“We were just numb,” Toni Gross said.
The day after learning of Frank’s death, the Grosses traveled from Oldsmar, Florida to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, expecting to stay at “some place like a Hampton Inn” for the dignified transfer of Frank’s body. But instead, just across the street from the runway, they spent 24 hours at the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen — a house created by Fisher House Foundation specifically for loved ones of those who have fallen through combat.
“It was a wonderfully comforting experience, and everything we could possibly think of— all of our needs, food, everything — was taken care of,” Toni Gross said. “We were able to spend time focusing on why we were there: grieving the loss of our son.”
That’s exactly what the chairman and CEO of Fisher House wants to hear. Ken Fisher is a third-generation leader of one of America’s most successful family-owned real estate development and management companies, but he is also expressly passionate about honoring veterans while assisting their families.
The foundation offers several programs to support military families through critical times, like the Hero Miles program and a scholarship program for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans. In 2019 alone, more than 32,000 families were served, according to its website.
There are 87 Fisher Houses located on 25 military installations and 38 VA medical centers, with several more in the works. Run by the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., each Fisher House provides free lodging for military families whose loved ones are receiving medical treatment nearby.
The Fisher House at Dover, however, is special for many reasons, Fisher says, because “it was built to honor the ultimate sacrifices of those who wear the uniform.”
Those who stay there aren’t waiting for a recovery but a goodbye to their airman, soldier, Marine, sailor or Coastie.
“I think the Fisher House at Dover does more than just provide lodging,” Fisher said. “It’s important that these families who have made the ultimate sacrifice understand that there are Americans that are very grateful.”
The Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Photo Roland Balik.
Built in just a few months in 2010, the Fisher House at Dover is equipped with nine guest suites that have seen approximately 3,700 guests since its opening. The average length of stay is 24 to 48 hours, with a typical family consists of six to 10 members.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Johnson watches over each one. As house manager, it’s her job to make sure each guest has every need — and every want —taken care of.
One family with small children, for example, stayed at the house over Halloween. Staff members purchased costumes and took them trick-or-treating. Another time, they cooked a traditional holiday dinner for a family receiving their loved one’s body over Christmas.
“[These families] are experiencing a very difficult point in their lives, and grieving comes in different ways, so we make sure the Fisher House staff members takes care of those families,” Johnson said. “Giving them the care that they need and providing them with any comfort required.”
Toni Gross’ experience with staff members made such an impact that she now volunteers regularly at a Fisher House in Florida. Similarly, Ken Fisher, whose 87-year-old father served in the Korean War, calls the houses his “passion.”
“The House at Dover is particularly relevant as we approach Memorial Day, even while we’re in the grip of a pandemic,” he said. “In the end, we can never ever forget what has been done, what has been given to us, this freedom. That what we hold most dear above everything else — that came at a cost.”
And for families who have experienced that cost, like Toni Gross, it is “comforting” to have a place of refuge during such a difficult time.
“My family and I are grateful to the Fisher House Foundation for our stay at Dover Air Force Base. While it was a solemn time, it was comforting to know that the staff there all understood why we were there and were able to accommodate us during our darkest hours,” Gross said.
The PAK-DA will be a subsonic aircraft designed for high payload and long-range flight. It’s expected to replace the aging Soviet-era turbo-prop Tu-95 “Bear” and the Tu-160 strategic bombers. Developed by Russia’s Ministry of Defense and Tupolev, the PAK-DA is scheduled to begin testing in 2019, according to KRET, the Russian company responsible for designing its radar system.
About three months ago an animated video surfaced showing the PAK-DA’s blended wing-body design, which looks a whole lot like a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber knock-off. It’s probably not the aircraft’s final design considering the style of the video, which is strikingly similar to those published by Russia’s propaganda media arm, Russia Today.
Here are two other articles with the same animation style we’ve written about:
Since the days of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock and his exploits in Vietnam, the image of Marine Corps Scout Snipers has struck fear in the hearts of America’s enemies.
And for good reason.
The Corps has one of the most comprehensive — and toughest — training schools for its sniper teams, with a grueling curriculum of long-range shooting, covert reconnaissance and advanced camouflage.
And that’s the problem, Corps infantry leaders say.
Marine officials have confirmed that Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is considering a plan that would make being a Scout Sniper a primary military occupational specialty in the Marine Corps, a move infantry leaders say would help units better meet the increasing demand for these highly-skilled specialists.
A Marine spokesperson declined to comment on whether the Commandant would sign off on the changes but said the Corps is looking into how to improve its Scout Sniper cadre.
“The Marine Corps is currently assessing the best way to train and sustain its Scout Snipers,” Marine spokesperson 1st Lt. Danielle Phillips told WATM. “It’s important we are thorough in our review to determine the best way the Corps can improve this vital capability.”
According to officers familiar with the process who spoke to We Are The Mighty on background, the way the Corps staffs its sniper platoons falls far short of the authorized goal of around 20 per platoon. One leader said on average a platoon has four trained snipers “if we’re lucky.”
“A lot of kids come to the sniper school not prepared or not fully qualified, so they fail out,” the infantry leader said. “So we’re just not able to maintain the number of snipers we need in a battalion.”
That’s why Neller was forwarded a plan to make the 0317 Scout Sniper MOS a primary one, in hopes that the Corps will do more to make sure enough of the sharpshooters get to the fleet where they’re needed.
“There’s a struggle to find Marines who have the time to train up and get to a ‘school level’ of success,” said a senior Marine sniper familiar with the MOS change proposal. “Right now it’s almost impossible.”
The senior Scout Sniper, who spoke on background to We Are The Mighty, said if the change is approved, a Marine who signed on as an 0317 would go through boot camp and the School of Infantry then would immediately be sent to a Basic Scout Sniper course. After that, the Marine would go back to the fleet to fill a Scout Sniper job in a platoon rather than leaving to chance the option of being pulled into another combat arms job.
Today, Marines who are selected for Scout Sniper have already completed one deployment and are approaching their end of active service, making it hard to keep snipers in the Corps even if they get the secondary MOS, the sniper leader said.
“There’s no way to make sure they stay in the sniper community,” he said.
As part of the change, the Corps is looking into modifying the Basic Scout Sniper course to focus more on the “scout” part of the training as opposed to shooting skills, the senior Marine leaders said.
Over the years, scout snipers have played an increasing role in reconnaissance and clandestine observation of targets where infantry leaders need “eyes on” key areas. Additionally, it’s been increasingly difficult to teach the advanced marksmanship skills that were once part of the basic sniper curriculum, contributing to the wash-out rates and making it harder for Marines to prepare for the sniper school.
The senior sniper said a lot of the advanced shooting techniques and other sniper-specific skills can be taught by senior NCOs once the new 0317 gets to his platoon. After a deployment in a sniper platoon, the Scout Sniper is better prepared for an advanced course and will help form a more seasoned cadre of leaders back at the platoon, he said.
But there are critics, senior Marine leaders acknowledge, particularly when it comes to the training changes.
“The old timers are pointing a bony finger at us and saying the new plan waters down sniper training,” the senior sniper said. “That’s an emotional response to how it used to be.”
“Nobody’s watering down what the Scout Sniper is and what he can do,” he added.
On Veteran’s Day, America’s bastions of consumer consumables give back to the defenders of The Republic by conspicuously offering copious amounts of free food. They know the target audience well – no one loves a discount like service members and veterans.
So here’s your chance to get out of the house, go dutch with one of the barracks rats, or just take Veteran’s Day for all its worth. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your limited time.
1. Get every last calorie out of it with a “max out meal” on the 10th.
There are a lot of restaurants giving away free stuff. You’ll never be able to make the most of it if you have full meals the day before. At least a day before you start eating is when you have what competitive eaters call the “max out meal.” You are essentially expanding your stomach as much as possible and allowing that food to get through your system in time for Veteran’s Day. This is your last solid food until you arrive at Denny’s at 0030, so keep the water and coffee handy.
Another tip: I did an intense workout the morning I attempted a 72-oz steak and ended up having room for dessert. Try that and you’ll be ready to go all Shock n’ Awe at the Shoney’s on the 11th.
2. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Design a battle plan for this. Some places open early, some are open later. Come up with a scheme that maximizes your food intake while limiting the time spent in line. The line might move fast at Wienerschnitzel – pick up your chili dogs on the way to Famous Dave’s and save them for later.
If someone offers breakfast all day, counterprogram: have breakfast for a mid-rats snack! Also, Bob Evans will give you free pancakes for signing up for their email newsletter, why waste the time in line on Veteran’s Day when you could be getting French Toast at Friendly’s?
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Try taking the buns off your All-American Burger, avoid the tortillas with the Chevy’s fajitas, and wait a day to get the Chocolate Wave cake from Red Lobster… they’ll let you have it for free on the 12th.
4. Use your medal citation as proof of service.
Some places – like Applebee’s and On the Border Mexican Grill– allow veterans to self-identify using their medal citations. What could be more awesome than dragging out the padded green plastic cover of your ARCOM medal? Not only are you a veteran, now your actions reflect great credit on yourself and the United States Army.
5. Shorten the line by hiring an actor.
If there’s one thing post-9/11 veterans love more than free stuff, it’s recording stolen valor videos. Pay someone to walk by the restaurant wearing a poorly-designed uniform combination from a local thrift store, and you’re guaranteed to cut that long line in half. Pro tip: this may not work at Cracker Barrel, Golden Corral, or anywhere else dominated by Vietnam-era veterans. Those guys care more about the food. People used to dress all kinds of stupid in the 60s and 70s.
6. Hit up the places you can’t afford.
If you’re hitting up Golden Corral and the Sizzler on the reg because a steak house is just out of your price range, Veteran’s Day is the day to take off your IR flag hat and Ranger Up shirt and slap on a collared shirt to take your battle to McCormick and Schmick’s, Bar Louie, and/or one of CentraArchy’s nicer steakhouses. Running shoes are still perfectly acceptable attire if two of these restaurants are within jogging distance of one another.
7. Deploy to the local Olive Garden.
The VA taught you how to wait all day just to be disappointed. You know how to entertain yourself while waiting around for hours on end. If running around isn’t your thing, the Olive Garden is giving away a Veteran’s Day meal plus unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. Bring a laptop to binge watch your favorite show while camping at a booth on FOB Garden all day.
The Air Force is buying a new bomber, dubbed the B-21 Raider, which has generated a lot of headlines and is considered one of the biggest priorities for the service. However, another program may be just as important – even if it doesn’t get the press.
According to an interview that TheCipherBrief.com had with retired Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, who was one of the primary planners of the Desert Storm air campaign, that program is the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, or LRSO. In plain terms, it is a new cruise missile.
While the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile is perhaps the most famous – and perhaps the most widely-used cruise missile since Operation Desert Storm – the Air Force has had a pair of cruise missiles it launched from its bombers for about four decades. They were the AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile and the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.
While some might argue that the B-2 and B-21 stealth bombers make cruise missiles unnecessary, Deptula said that was not the case. In fact, they make the stealth bombers more potent.
“The LRSO, when carried by B-21s, will enable simultaneous target attacks against several targets from one aircraft, with multiple cruise missiles making defense against this combination highly problematical,” he said. “This combination strengthens deterrence by presenting an adversary an intractable challenge.”
One of the biggest factors in making that challenge intractable is that the bombers are able to attack from just about any point on the compass. In essence, the cruise missiles would enable a B-21 to hit multiple targets from unexpected directions.
Older bombers like the B-52 and B-1B will also be able to use LRSO as well, with Deptula explaining that they would thus “add mass to an attack” against an adversary. The missile is planned to enter service in 2030 according to FlightGlobal.com, and will feature both nuclear and conventional warheads.
The admiral commanding America’s Pacific naval fleet says he will retire.
Admiral Scott Swift made the shocking announcement in a statement released late Sept. 25.
In the statement, Swift revealed he had been informed that he would not rise to become Commander of United States Pacific Command, a usual advancement for Navy admirals who commanded the Pacific Fleet.
“I have been informed by the Chief of Naval Operations that I will not be his nominee to replace Adm. [Harry] Harris as the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command,” he said. “In keeping with tradition and in loyalty to the Navy, I have submitted my request to retire.”
Admiral Swift’s career included service with Attack Squadrons 94 and 97, flying the LTV A-7 Corsair. He saw combat during Operation Preying Mantis, and commander Air Wing 14 and Carrier Strike Group 9. His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Medal with Combat V.
In recent months, the Pacific Fleet as rocked by the collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) that killed a total of 17 sailors and seriously damaged both vessels, which were forward-based as part of Destroyer Squadron 15.
A number of other officers have been relieved of duty in the wake of those collisions, including Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, and the commanders of Destroyer Squadron 15 and Task Force 70.