Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths - We Are The Mighty
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Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Two Army Rangers who were killed in Afghanistan earlier this week may have been struck by friendly fire, the Pentagon said.


Sergeant Joshua Rodgers, 22, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, both deployed from Fort Benning, Georgia, died during a Wednesday night raid targeting the emir of the Islamic State, a group also known as ISIS and ISIL. A third soldier was injured during the operation but is expected to recover.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
Army Rangers conduct a raid in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elliott N. Banks)

Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, said officials are investigating whether the soldiers were killed by American forces or Afghan commandos involved in the raid. He said it was “possible” the Rangers were struck by friendly fire but there are “no indications it was intentional,” he said.

“War is a very difficult thing, in the heat of battle, in the fog of war the possibility always exists for friendly fire, and that may have been what happened here and that is what we are looking into with this investigation,” he said.

Officials said 50 Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos were dropped by helicopter into the Nagarhar Province, located about a mile fro the site where the United States dropped the MOAB on April 13.

Several IS leaders and operatives were killed in the raid.

“We did know going in that this was going to be a very tough fight,” Davis said. “We were going after the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan and doing it in a way that required us to put a large number of people on the ground as part of this mission, and it was a mission that appears to have accomplished its objective but it did so at a cost”

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The 10 best military movies to watch on Netflix this month

There’s aren’t many military-themed new releases for December, so take a dive deep into the Netflix catalog for some fascinating catalog titles.


1. The Longest Day

Producer Darryl F. Zanuck was determined that his movie was going to be the definitive movie about D-Day and it probably was before the release of “Saving Private Ryan.” While “Ryan” focused on the personal stories of men on the ground, “The Longest Day” aims to tell the WHOLE story. There’s a massive cast that includes Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, Gert Fröbe, Eddie Albert and Curd Jürgens. If you’re under 40, you might wonder how anyone could watch a 3-hour movie with so much talking, but “The Longest Day” is the greatest generation’s most ambitious tribute to itself. (1962)

2. Kagemusha

“Kagemusha” (a/k/a “Shadow Lord”) was a worldwide success for Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in 1980. It won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign film, but it’s of interest here for its epic battle scenes. The plot revolves around a street criminal hired to imitate a medieval war lord and fool enemies in battle. If you can deal with subtitles, this movie features staggering swordplay. (1980)

3. Von Ryan’s Express

Frank Sinatra (and his hairpiece) were almost 50 years old when he played a World War II Army Air Corps pilot shot down over Italy. He ends in a POW camp with a bunch of Brits and takes over as their commanding officer, because he’s a colonel. And American, full of American leadership. After the Italians surrender, the newly-freed POWs are chased by the Germans. The good guys highjack a train and try to escape to Switzerland. There are heroics and some heroic deaths. Are there better WWII movies? Sure, but the Chairman is determined to prove he can carry a war movie by himself and he’s always fun to watch when he’s angry. (1965)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxCHiZ-UxOI

4. The Enemy Below

Film noir star Dick Powell tried to make a move into the director’s chair in the late ’50s, but it was bad luck that his first gig was “The Conqueror” starring John Wayne. Early scenes from that (terrible) movie were shot in Utan downwind from nuclear bomb test sites and almost half of the cast developed cancer over the next twenty years and Powell was gone by 1963. The only other movie he directed was this WWII “KILLER-SUB versus SUB KILLER” movie starring Robert Mitchum as a Naval reserve captain hunting a German U-boat commanded by a Curd Jürgens. We’re supposed to feel sympathy for the German because he’s not enamored of his Nazi leaders, so this one’s about the mutual respect that warriors feel in battle. It’s surprising to see Hollywood moving on from Evil Nazis so soon after the conflict ended. (1957)

5. Last Days in Vietnam

This PBS documentary details the American withdrawal from Saigon in April 1975. As the North Vietnamese army closed in, the U.S. military had to evacuate 5,000 Americans and made efforts to rescue a large number of Vietnamese who had supported the U.S. during the war. (2014)

6. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s alternate history of World War II stars Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, who leads a squad of Nazi hunters who successfully carry out a plan to assassinate Hitler and his top brass in a movie theater. It’s profane and funny: Tarantino is more interested in paying tribute to the low-rent drive-in war movies he saw as a kid than exploring the history of WWII. (2009)

7. Black Hawk Down

Ridley Scott’s drama is based on a real-life 1993 raid in Somalia to capture faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The 75th Rangers and Delta Force go in and things quickly go south, the troops face down enemy forces in a brutal battle and 19 men (and over 1,000 Somali citizens) are killed before the mission is complete. Scott brings a compelling visual style to the material and the cast features a host of young actors who went on to great success, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana. Sam Shepherd and Tom Sizemore also play key old-guy roles. (2001)

8. Hell is for Heroes

Steve McQueen gets to work the moody anti-hero magic in a World War II flick directed by Don Siegel of “Dirty Harry” fame. Pop singer Bobby Darin and Bob Newhart round out a cast that also features tough guys Fess Parker and James Coburn. Sticklers for accuracy will be quick to notice where the production cut corners and McQueen’s struggles with a balky M3 in the final reel. Still, it’s all about his performance and he’s fantastic. The whole think clocks in at 90 minutes, so you’re not committing your entire night to the experience. (1962)

9. Bravo Two Zero

Former SAS commander Andy McNab is sort of the UK version Chris Kyle. He’s had a successful career writing military thrillers. Sean Bean plays McNab in this 2-hour BBC TV film detailing an SAS mission McNab led to capture Iraqi SCUD missile launchers aimed at Israel during the first Gulf War. There aren’t many movies about that conflict and this one serves as a reminder that we’ve been fighting alongside the Brits in almost every war for the last 100 years.(1999)

10. The Navy SEALs: Their Untold Story

This PBS documentary begins with Navy frogmen in World War II and does a fascinating job of detailing the evolving mission and eventual official creation of the SEAL units. There are extensive interviews with the men who served and a lot of filmed footage you haven’t seen endlessly recycled on those History and Military (sorry, “American Heroes”) channel programs. (2014)

MIGHTY TRENDING

US pilots’ close calls with Russian aircraft are likely to continue, experts say

The U.S. Navy last week watched a single-seat Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E come within 25 feet of a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft while at high speed and inverted, causing wake turbulence and putting the U.S. “pilots and crew at risk” over the Mediterranean Sea.

Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.


Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.

The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.

“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.

In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.

“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Opportunity to Go Viral

Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”

Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.

“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.

“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”

Predictable Response

Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.

The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.

Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.

More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.

For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”

“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”

Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.

“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.

“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.

Not Backing Down

Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.

“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”

Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

These five countries fought a war that was literally over bird sh-t

In the early 1860s, Spain was dealing with the loss of many of its overseas colonies. Spain also suffered a series of minor insults to their prestige at the hands of Peru, a former Spanish colony. In an effort to save face and collect on debts left over the Peruvian War of Independence, Spanish forces launched a fleet of ships in April 1864 to seize the valuable Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru.


Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
Photo: Wikipedia/Federico Castellón Martínez

The Chincha Islands supplied over half of Peru’s annual budget at the time as laborers collected bird guano from 150-foot-high deposits. Yes, sh-t stacks that high. In the late 1800s, bird guano was known as both a great fertilizer and a great source of saltpeter. Saltpeter mixed in the proper ratio with sulfur and charcoal forms gunpowder.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
The guano mines in the Central Chincha Islands in the 1860s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So when the Spanish landed 400 marines on the islands and formed a blockade of Peruvian ports, the Peruvian government was understandably angry. A political crisis followed as negotiations repeatedly failed to end the standoff. This stalemate drug on from April 1864 to September 1865.

That was when a Spanish ship went to a Chilean port to refuel with coal and the Chileans refused it on the basis that they couldn’t support Spain’s occupation of the islands and blockade of Peru. The Spanish commander, Vice Adm. Juan Manuel Pareja, sailed his flagship into the Chilean harbor and demanded a military salute from the town. When it was refused, Spain demanded reparations payments. The Chileans declared war in September 1865 instead. The Chincha Islands war was on.

Chile won an early victory at the Battle of Papudo when it captured a Spanish ship, the Covadongo. Peru then entered open hostilities with Spain and signed a treaty with Chile. Spain, Peru, and Chile fought for a year before Ecuador and Bolivia joined the fight against Spain in late-1866.

In early 1867 Spain crippled Chile’s merchant marine and shelled a Chilean city. While the attacks were militarily successful, the rest of the world was quick to condemn Spanish actions. Spain found itself with even fewer friends as Britain and America condemned the attacks.

Spain eventually gave up on the war without having captured any ground beyond the original guano-soaked gains in the Chincha Islands. As the Spanish withdrew, Peru took the islands again and have continued to collect the guano since.

The Chincha Islands War wasn’t the only conflict the nations fought for guano. The War of the Pacific from 1879-1884 was partially over guano deposits in the Atacama Desert.

NOW: 4 of the weirdest things the Nazis ever did

Articles

This Q-n-A reveals the hard-fought wisdom of paratrooper who dropped into D-Day

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
(Photo: Nat’l Archives)


WATM recently had an audience with 92-year-old WWII Army veteran Clark Johnson of Floreville, Texas. At the time Johnson had just gotten back from visiting his late wife’s family and his disabled son who he hadn’t seen in eight years, a trip he was given courtesy of Dream Foundation.  Despite the fact that he has lung disease and has been given two months to live, he was very upbeat and candid during an amazing conversation that revealed hard-fought wisdom of an old vet.

Q: What was your rank?

A: Staff Sergeant.  I was in Airborne, and 2-3 days after my jump in Normandy, I hurt my leg pulling a soldier out of the swamp. [He was] drowned but we needed the material on his back over and above that even the ones drowned that didn’t have nothing we pulled them onto shore so the Red Cross could come pick ’em up later.

My job mainly was a demolition man, but for the first 3-4 days in Normandy, there was so much confusion you would kill anyone that got in your way [laughs]; you wanted to say alive.

Q: What have your learned from your time in the military?

A: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the government can pull anything out of a hat.

Q: What advice do you have for current members of the military?

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
Carl Johnson (Photo: Dream Foundation)

A: If you get in front of a machine gun, like I did, and they take the knuckle out of your middle finger – don’t pull your hand away. Leave it up there, even let them get the other three fingers too. Because today – that knuckle out of my little finger pays me a thousand dollars a month.

I got two Purple Hearts and each one of ’em pays me a thousand bucks. That’s $2,000 a month [laughs]; you know, at least that puts food on the table.

Q: How did you cope with what you saw during your time in combat?

A: Silence is the best thing that I know. Because, now and then, you can say something, and then later on they ask you the same thing you said and they’re mixing stuff up. That’s not good for nobody.

Q: Do you remember when you got drafted?

A: Yeah, I got a letter that was typed, “Greetings!” (laughs)

Q: What went through your mind when you got that letter?

A: I was gonna lose my job. Hey, you know when you were a teenager and you got a job, you were lucky if you got a good one that paid big money.

Q: How old were you when you got drafted?

A: 18

Q: What years did you serve?

A: 1943-1946

Q: What is your advice to young Americans?

A: If you can’t go to college, due to money, whatever, there is nothing wrong with going to the Army or the Navy and getting out in about four years with a discharge that will help you for the rest of your life. I can’t lay it any cleaner than that.

Q: What is your definition of patriotism?

A: No politics.

 

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Veterans Moving Forward: More veterans requesting service dogs amid pandemic

If you love working with dogs and like service opportunities, consider supporting and volunteering with Veterans Moving Forward!

Veterans Moving Forward provides service and emotional support dogs to veterans dealing with mental and/or physical challenges at no cost.


DONATE

VMF relies entirely on donations, grants and fund raising for funding our operations and programs. Your financial support is greatly appreciated! TEXT dogs4vets to 707070 or visit vetsfwd.org!

VOLUNTEER

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APPLY

Apply for a Veterans Moving Forward Service Dog by completing and submitting (per instructions on the application form) our Service Dog Application.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Meet Ashley:


Ashley is named after Army 1LT Ashley White.

1st Lt. Ashley White was killed during combat operations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on October 22, 2011 when the assault force she was supporting triggered an improvised explosive device. Ashley was assigned to the 230th Brigade Support Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina National Guard, Goldsboro, NC and served as a member of a Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. As a Cultural Support Team Member on her first deployment to Afghanistan, White selflessly served. Ashley’s actions exemplify the highest commitment to duty, honor, and country. In every instance she served with distinction in support of the Task Force and our great nation.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Taliban announces new department for intra-Afghan talks

The Taliban has formed a new 20-member department responsible for holding intra-Afghan talks, as well as negotiations with the United States.

Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the militant group’s chief negotiator, told RFE/RL on August 26 that he will head the new department, which will be tasked with selecting the location and preparing the agenda for planned intra-Afghan peace talks.


The talks between the Taliban and the internationally backed government in Kabul are part of an earlier agreement reached between the militants and the United States in an effort to end nearly 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

However, the talks have recently been thrown into uncertainty after the Afghan government said it would not release more Taliban prisoners until the militant group freed more of its soldiers.

Stanikzai said the newly formed department is separate from the Doha-based Taliban political office and will be in direct contact with the Taliban leadership. He also said the intra-Afghan talks will be held in different countries.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how scientists captured the first picture of a supermassive black hole

The algorithms that played a major role in allowing a supermassive black hole to be photographed for the first time were largely designed three years ago by a graduate student in her 20s.

Katie Bouman, now 29, was studying computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she worked at the school’s Haystack Observatory.


Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Scientists published the first image of a black hole. The image captured Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.

(Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

In the search for a way to capture an image of the black hole, located 55 million light-years away in the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, astronomers at MIT took part in the Event Horizon Telescope project, but they faced a serious problem.

They needed to stitch together millions of gigabytes’ worth of data captured by telescopes located all over the world.

Bouman had the solution: Find a way to stitch the data about the black hole together pixel by pixel.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Katie Bouman.

(TED/YouTube)

“We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image,”Bouman told CNN.

“We didn’t want to just develop one algorithm. We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them.”

“If all of them recover the same general structure, then that builds your confidence.”

Vincent Fish, a scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, told CNN that Bouman was “a major part of one of the imaging subteams.”

Fish told CNN that senior scientists worked on the project too, but the specific task of imaging the black hole was predominantly run by junior researchers like Bouman.

“One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images,” Fish said.

“Just think about the photos you take with your camera phone, they have certain properties.” He added: “If you know what one pixel is, you have a good guess as to what the pixel is next to it.”

CNN reported that Bouman would begin teaching as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology in the fall.

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

Articles

This Civil War general’s legacy goes deeper than a tank and ‘total war’

 


General William Tecumseh Sherman’s military legacy rests on a lot more than just killing the enemy.

Of course, he helped change how the United States would wage war in the next 80 years. His name would also later adorn one of the country’s most iconic symbols of military might.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
Photo: D. Miller/ Flickr

But the one that probably matters the most for today’s veterans was his influence on how to deal with the invisible wounds of war.

Sherman was a high-profile general and war hero who successfully overcame mental health issues to return to service and play the decisive role he played in the Civil War.

In late 1861, he grew despondent over his command in Kentucky, a secondary theater of the war. Knowing he was not well, he insisted upon his relief in November of 1861. Caught in the depths of what a number of historians believe to have been either bipolar disorder or depression, Sherman even contemplated suicide.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
General William Tecumseh Sherman (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, he would recover, and Gen. Henry Halleck would return him to light duty. Eventually he would be paired with Ulysses S. Grant in time to win the Battle of Shiloh. In the Western Theater, Grant and Sherman were two high-ranking “battle buddies” who eventually won the Civil War.

For today’s vets, his recovery without the modern understanding of mental health issues points to the important role that supportive friends, family, and superiors can play in treating the invisible wounds of war. In light of the recent suicide of Major General John Rossi, remembering the support that General Halleck and Grant gave to Sherman’s efforts to recover may be his most important legacy.

While his legacy of overcoming the “invisible wounds” of mental health problems is the most important legacy for today, that misses other contributions he made.

Sherman’s most immediate legacy was the introduction of the “total war” strategy to the United States military. The way he burned and pillaged his way through the state of Georgia, first taking Atlanta, then with his March to the Sea that took Savannah (near the present-day Fort Stewart), severed the supply lines for Confederate forces. The resulting logistics problems, combined with the bad news from home, helped force the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April, 1865.

Eighty years later, Germany and Japan both surrendered, thanks to the use of that same doctrine. Whether it was the use of massed bomber formations, or submarines putting merchant vessels on the bottom of the ocean, Sherman’s concept of total war was in play during World War II.

World War II also saw another legacy of William Tecumseh Sherman. This time it was the famous M4 Sherman tank that was named in his honor. Prior to the Civil War, Sherman had warned the South that it was about to pick a fight it could not win – particularly given the North’s industrial might. In World War II, the Sherman was one of the most prominent examples of America’s industrial might – over 49,000 were built. They saw combat in every theater of combat, and were used not only by the Army and Marine Corps, but by the British, Canadians, Soviets, and Chinese. After World War II, they saw action in Korea and the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani Wars.

In an ironic twist, just as General Sherman warned the South prior to the Civil War that provoking a fight with the North was a bad idea, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned his superiors of America’s latent industrial might. Unlike Sherman, who left the South and backed up his moral convictions, Yamamoto implemented the desires of the Japanese war lords, and helped plan the Pearl Harbor attack. While Sherman lived to be reviled through the South, Yamamoto met his end at the hands of Tom Lanphier over Bougainville on April 18, 1943.

It is said that William Tecumseh Sherman was the first so called “modern general.” Given that his legacy to the United States military will continue to reverberate through the United States military and around the world, that seems to be a very fair statement.

Articles

Navy officer feels the need for NASCAR speed

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths


Jesse Iwuji wasn’t a race car driver when he entered his first race. The Dallas-area high school football standout and son of first-generation Nigerian immigrants had been recruited by the U.S. Naval Academy to play defensive back. He’d been a big part of three winning seasons with the Midshipmen when he took his stock Chrysler 300 to the Capitol Speedway in Crofton, Maryland to see if he could beat anyone on open drag race night.

That experience fueled his desire to do it again . . . and better. Immediately after he graduated and put on ensign bars in May of 2010 he bought a Dodge Challenger SRT8 and started racing it.

After a year of coaching football at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, Jesse made his way to San Diego for his first fleet tour aboard a mine sweeper. Among his priorities once he got there was to join a car club and locate the nearest raceway. He managed to balance his shipboard duties with drag races on free weekends at a strip 45 minutes away.

His racing was interrupted by a 10-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, but when he returned to San Diego he was able to convert the money he’d saved on cruise into modifications to his Challenger that made it into a 1,000 horsepower scream machine. He took the car to the Mohave Mile and hit 200.9 miles per hour, which made him only the fifth person in the world to reach that speed with a modern HEMI engine.

“I proved you don’t have to be a fancy person to go fast,” he said.

His performance at the Mohave Mile got him the right kind of exposure. A lot of people started following his racing videos on YouTube. He was featured in a number of car magazines, including Hot Rod. That coverage led to performance company sponsorships.

Jesse transferred from sea duty to a shore tour working on the staff at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and as he did he bought a five-year-old Corvette ZO6 with an eye on switching from drag strips to road courses. He spent weekends driving five and a half hours from Monterey to Irwindale in an attempt to learn the ropes required beyond driving fast in a straight line.

“I started learning car control and the different parts of being a good driver,” he said.

Eventually he landed an invitation to try out for a driver slot with Performance P1 Motorsports. After 4 test sessions he was on the team for the 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season – 11 30-lap races, one every two weeks or so, all of them at Irwindale Speedway.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
(Photo: Eric Win)

Race weekends start with Friday night practice runs. Saturday is race day, including qualifying runs to determine pole position in a field of 20-22 cars.

Jesse’s first race was on April 4. He crashed during a practice run but managed to make the race and finished 15th. He started in the 12th position in his second race a few weeks later but got tangled up with another car and spun out.

“The guy behind me had nowhere to go,” he said. “I got T-boned. That ended my night.”

He finished the third race in 17th place.

Jesse has quickly learned that setting the car up right maintenance-wise is crucial.  “When you don’t have a lot of seat time you don’t necessarily know what’ normal in terms of how the car should feel,” he said.  “The more runs I get the more I’ll know.”

Entry fees for races are between $3,500-$7,000, which is a lot of money for a single lieutenant. But his financial burden has been largely reduced by the Phoenix Patriot Foundation.

“We dedicate each race weekend to a wounded veteran and his family,” he said. “The effort has been widely supported by race officials and others. It’s an opportunity for everyone to give back to the people who’ve made a sacrifice on their behalf.”

Jesse plans on getting out of the Navy at the end of his current tour to pursue bigger things as a NASCAR driver. He hopes to move up to the KN Pro Series soon, driving a bigger car in front of bigger crowds. After that he wants to make it to the Xfinity series and finally the big leagues – the Sprint Cup.

Jesse’s confident he’ll make it all the way. “All the things I’ve learned in the Navy have helped,” he said.  “Some of the biggest drivers haven’t even graduated high school yet. They don’t have real life experiences.  I’ve managed myself in stressful environments, including war zones. That has already helped me a lot out here, along with networking and meeting the right people.”

Jesse’s next NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race is July 4.

For more about the Phoenix Patriot Foundation go here.

Now: This combat controller kept taking it to the enemy after he was shot in the chest

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veteran guides others with PTSD to avoid suicidal thoughts

These days, Jeff Henson is doing what he believes has been his calling in life. He’s showing people who have attempted or have had thoughts of suicide that there is another way.

The Air Force Veteran (pictured above) is a volunteer at Save A Warrior. The nonprofit provides counseling in mental health, wellness and suicide prevention to Veterans, active-duty military and first responders. More than 1,100 men and women have gone through the program since it began eight years ago.


Many of these people, Henson explains, are missing “their family, their tribe” with whom they once built a friendship and camaraderie in the military or elsewhere. A lot of them not only have PTSD, he says, but PTSD and moral injury, which is essentially a conflict with one’s personal code of morality.

A Veteran may feel guilt, shame or self-condemnation for violating his or her moral beliefs in combat by killing someone, witnessing death or failing to prevent the immoral acts of others.

The will to live

Henson believes moral injury is a form of “complex PTSD” that can also stem from negative circumstances in one’s childhood.

“We introduce a Veteran to a tribe of 12 other Veterans who came to Save A Warrior at the same time as total strangers. They can leave as ‘brothers’ with an understanding that it’s not always what happened down-range that has them stuck in life. We provide hope and magic that is the will to live.”

Henson has been there himself. Diagnosed with PTSD and void of hope, he went through the Save A Warrior program in 2016 while in Veterans’ treatment court in Orange County, California.

Flashbacks from the Gulf War

His court time stemmed from a domestic violence incident in 2013. At the time, he was experiencing many of the classic PTSD symptoms: nightmares, mood swings, anxiety, depression, isolation and flashbacks. When the incident happened, he had flashed back to a moment when he unintentionally witnessed a decapitation in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, during the Gulf War in 1990, and he lost control.

Study links PTSD with criminal justice involvement

Earlier this year, a VA study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that Veterans with PTSD — compared to those without — are six times more likely to experience run-ins with the law.

The researchers say it is unclear what is driving the ties between PTSD and criminal justice involvement. They say the general strain theory may partially explain the results. That theory asserts that the risk of criminal behavior is higher among people who have experienced traumatic events and report negative effects, such as high levels of anger or irritability,

It gave me hope

Meanwhile, as part of getting his life back together, the 59-year-old Henson is pursuing a doctorate in psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

He’s also trying to give back to the organization that gave him so much.

“Save A Warrior did not save my life, but it gave me hope,” he says. “It’s the difference between `being alive’ and `living.’ It’s also about being of service. I’m one of the shepherds who helps people through the process that I went through.

“When we’re kids, we’re told by our parents not to use four-letter words,” he adds. “I dispute that because hope is a four-letter word. And hope is powerful.”

Click here to read more of Henson’s story.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Artsakh War brought about Armenia’s first all-women military unit

Armenia and Artsakh, the previously self-determined independent country bordering Armenia with a majority Armenian population, spent the better half of fall 2020 at war with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey. The conflict drew worldwide attention with mercenaries being brought in from Syria to fight against Armenian diaspora who came from around the world to fight for their cultural home. 

On November 10, the Prime Minister of Armenia announced an unpopular ceasefire in which the historic Armenian homeland of Artsakh would be returned to Azerbaijan. The terms of the ceasefire, brokered by Russia, included that Turkish and Russian troops would guard the Armenian-Artsakh border for the next five years. Though this was not the end to the conflict that either Armenia or Artsakh wanted, a historic glass ceiling was broken for the women of Armenia; the first all-women military unit was created.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
An Erato soldier fires an RPK (Armenian Ministry of Defense)

Prior to the Azerbaijan-Artsakh war, women in military service in Armenia was a fairly new concept. During the first war with Azerbaijan over Artsakh which took place from 1991-1994, at least 115 Armenian women are known to have taken part in combat throughout the conflict. However, the military academies in Armenia were not opened to women until 2013. The Marshal Khanperiants Aviation Institute, where pilots and air defense officers are trained, admitted 5 women in 2013, the first military academy to do so. The next year, the Vazgen Sarkissian Military University admitted its first group of female cadets. Now, in 2020, the Prime Minister of Armenia’s wife has formed the first all-women military unit in the ancient country’s history.

August 2020, a month prior to the resurgence of violence over the disputed region, Anna Hakobyan, wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, underwent a seven day combat readiness training program with women from Artsakh. The next month, Hakobyan created a voluntary 45-day basic training program for women aged 18-27. Following successful completion of the program, these women could elect to formally join the armed forces.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths
Erato soldiers build defensive positions (Armenian Ministry of Defense)

In October, a month into the Artsakh war, Hakobyan created an elite unit of 13 females called the Erato Detachment. The unit is named for Armenian Queen Erato, who ruled during the turn of the Common Era. The women of the Erato Detachment underwent more intense military training exercises in preparation for a frontline deployment. In early November, after extensive evaluation, their unit was deemed qualified for combat. Now, since the latest ceasefire, Hakobyan and the Erato Detachment remain on guard in their areas of responsibility. When she returns to Yerevan, Hakobyan plans to continue to grow the Erato detachment saying, “All women should go to battle when necessary.”

Anna Hakobyan answered her nation’s call to action when it was needed, despite her status in Armenia. With her commitment to the country and its people, she created the application process for the all-women military unit, scheduled their training, and got them on the frontlines alongside their male counterparts. Though the conflict is at an unpopular ceasefire, the door has been opened for Armenian women to serve their country and defend their homeland.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the Coast Guard’s hardcore equivalent to the Navy SEALs

We’ve all poked fun of the U.S. Coast Guard. We get it. They’re like the red-headed stepchild of the Armed Forces. The very mention of their existence is almost always met by other troops spouting off the same, “yeah, well, they’re not always DoD!” Once you put your jokes about them aside, however, you’ll realize that they’re every bit as badass as the next troop.

For instance, the Coast Guard maintains their very own specialized forces that are on par, in terms of training and mission capacity, with the rest of the SOCOM units. And this isn’t an exaggeration, considering the fact that they’re constantly training with the SEAL teams.

They’re called the Maritime Security Response Team, or MSRT.


Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

If they walk like a duck, dress like a duck, and operate like a duck…

(U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Robert Nash)

The MSRT is the full-time counter-terrorism assault arm of maritime law enforcement. They’re tasked with being the first responders to terrorist situations that require boarding and securing hostile vessels — in all waters, both domestic and abroad.

Originally a part of the Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group — or DOG, before it was dissolved in 2013 — the MSRT remains the go-to team in responding to piracy the world over.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Just to throw it out there, aiming a rifle from one of these is a headache, but these guys have mastered the art.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)

Each assault element is broken down into several teams. The Direct Action Section is the main group of vessel-boarding operators that are extensively trained in close-quarters combat. Then, the Precision Marksmen Observer Team provides rear support through the lens of a high-powered sniper rifle, which is often aimed from moving aircraft or boats. Finally, the Tactical Delivery Teams bring the rest of their MSRT comrades into the fold.

The teams also include personnel that are specifically trained in handling chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and high-yield explosive environments, mixing the talents of EOD and bomb squad units with CBRN capabilities.

Pentagon investigating friendly fire in Army Ranger deaths

Go ahead and sh*t talk the Coast Guard to the face of an MSRT… I’ll wait.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)

The MSRT is called in for situations that involve neutralizing terrorists or pirates. The scope of their mission is huge — if it’s in the interest of America to neutralize a threat at sea, they will. Their area of operations includes the often-misunderstood international waters.

As with most Special Operations, their movements are not often discussed in the news — but they go everywhere. Recently, one of their known areas of operations has been off the coast of Syria in the Mediterranean Sea and all around the coast of Africa.

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