A few years ago a team of journalists from Syracuse University traveled to rural Washington state to tell the stories of hundreds of veterans living there, some off-the-grid, away from the country for which they fought.
The project includes the story of Chad Olsen, a Marine who killed his wife and himself in 2009, and the stories of those who knew him. It features the stories of Ryn Rollins and Adam Howerton, who (at the time) were 18 and enlisting in the Army. The project also shows how one Marine veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress and returning to everyday life after three tours in Iraq.
The project also follows “trip-wire veterans,” a small group of vets who escaped their lives into the wilds of American back country because they were unable to face their war memories and were provided little help when they returned. The term “trip-wire” comes from the Vietnam War, where the Viet Cong would booby trap trails used by U.S. servicemen to injure and maim troops outside their bases.
The term was first coined in the early 1980’s, when around 85 people were documented living in the Washington wilds. It was not known then how many were out there. One former trip-wire vet was Mike McWatters. He lived in New York’s Adirondack Mountains for two years after seeing heavy combat in Vietnam. In 1983, he started work to reach out to these veterans to encourage them to seek treatment.
“I know one vet who went into the woods naked,” McWatters said. “He came out in full leather clothing, having gained 40 pounds, carrying weapons he’d made.”
When these veterans were first discovered, the media often inaccurately portrayed them as criminals and drunks or worse. In June, 1988, Dan Rather and CBS News interviewed six “Vietnam veterans” who admitted to killing civilians or seeing friends killed in action, and had since become homeless, suicidal drug users after the war. Later investigations showed none of it was true.
The reality is not so black and white. The project hit important topics beyond PTSD – women, race (specifically Native Americans) and the wives and children veterans leave behind, all from the rural town of Republic, Washington.
This team did more than just tell tales of the people living there. They provided thoroughly researched background information on veteran suicide, the steps to getting a VA disability claim, and an infographic on U.S. wars from 1900 (current as of 2010) and those who fought them.
In February 1988, the American cruiser USS Yorktown was on a Freedom of Navigation mission in the Black Sea, just south of Crimea. With her was the USS Caron. Though outside of traditional sea lanes, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows for warships to leave sea lanes — even in another country’s territorial waters — as long as those warships were on “innocent passage.”
The Soviet Union disagreed.
Though the Russians routinely used their own naval vessels to shadow the Americans in the region, the case of the Yorktown and Caron was different. The Russians held that the two American ships were armed with more firepower than previous treaties allowed while in their territory. They also believed that they had the authority to clear ships entering their waters.
That’s why the Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyi warned the Yorktown it would “strike their ship with own” if the Americans entered Soviet territory. Meanwhile, another Soviet frigate confronted the Caron. The Americans blew off the threat, with the Caron responding: “I am engaged in innocent passage consistent with international law.”
That’s when the second Russian frigate slammed into the Caron’s port side aft. There was no damage except some paint scraping. The Caron pressed on and exited Soviet waters almost two full hours later.
Also in Soviet territory, the Yorktown was being shadowed by the Russian Bezzavetnyi. The Russian closed to within 50 feet of the Yorktown when it turned into the American ship, slamming into its port side. Bezzavetnyi’s anchor fell away, while Yorktown suffered minor hull damage, though with no breaches. The ship’s rear Harpoon missile launchers were damaged and unusable.
Yorktown completed her mission and left in a similar two-hour time frame.
The Russians had no intention of sinking either ship and no weapons were ever cleared for action. In after action interviews, the skipper of the Bezzavetnyi said:
“To be honest, no one in the in the command center put on his lifejacket, although the order had been given… Many members of the crew of Yorktown were on the upper deck, smiling and waving, taking pictures of us with cameras and videocameras. And the commanding officer of Yorktown, for example, appeared on the bridge in parade uniform. In a word, the Americans behaved as if they were participating in a show for entertainment.”
“Are you not entertained?” (U.S. Navy photo)
“Our view is that unless you exercise the right of freedom of navigation, inevitably you lose it,” said then-Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the incident. “If we start backing off we will eventually lose some of the rights that are absolutely essential for our freedom of navigation.”
Freedom of Navigation missions have been a cornerstone of the US Navy mission and of American foreign policy since 1979. The resolve of the Yorktown and Caron to press on are testament to the dedication to the mission.
The fight between Turkish forces and US-backed SDF fighters in northwest Syria’s Afrin province appears to be in a tailspin.
Turkish forces have reportedly killed more than a hundred civilians, mutilated U.S.-backed SDF fighters, and even indiscriminately shot at displaced civilians attempting to flee into Turkey.
Ankara launched a massive ground and air campaign, code-named “Olive Branch,” against the U.S.-backed SDF forces in Afrin on Jan. 20 2018 in response to the U.S.’s announcement that it would train and maintain a 30,000-strong, predominately Kurdish force in the region.
Turkey views the Kurdish YPG as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a deadly, decades-long insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
But in the last two weeks, Turkish forces have made only limited gains in Afrin, as SDF fighters, including the YPG and all-women YPJ, appear to have put up rather stiff resistance.
At least 20 videos have surfaced showing YPG forces targeting, and in many instances destroying, invading Turkish tanks and armored vehicles with anti-tank guided missile systems. Freelance journalist Aris Roussinos compiled a Twitter thread of those videos here.
On Feb. 03 2018, YPG fighters killed seven Turkish soldiers, including five in one attack on a tank, according to The Guardian.
SDF fighters have also responded with occasional rocket fire across the border into Turkey, according to The Washington Post. One of those attacks killed a teenage girl and wounded another civilian in the Turkish town of Reyhanli.
But these attacks appear to have only incensed Turkish forces.
A number of graphic videos have appeared on social media showing Turkish-backed rebels mutilating dead YPG fighters.
On Feb. 01 2018, videos emerged showing Turkish-backed rebels kicking the dead corpse of a female YPG fighter named Barin Kobani and discussing whether she was attractive after stripping off her clothes and cutting off her breasts.
A YPJ spokeswoman told AFP that Kobani and three other female fighters were battling Turkish-backed forces, refused to withdraw, and “fought until death.”
“I swear to God, we’ll avenge you,” Kobani’s brother, 30-year-old Aref Mustafa Omar, cried out at her funeral, AFP reported.
Another incredibly graphic video appeared on Twitter apparently showing Turkish forces kicking and stepping on the body of a dead male YPG fighter.
These disturbing instances have coincided with a Human Rights Watch report released on Feb. 03 2018 saying that Turkish border guards are indiscriminately shooting at civilians trying to flee Afrin and returning the asylum-seekers.
Turkish border guards are also reportedly beating detained asylum-seekers and refusing them medical care, Human Rights Watch reported. Between Dec. 15 2017 and Jan. 22 2018, more than 247,000 Syrians in Afrin were displaced to the border, according to the UN.
On Feb. 04 2018, thousands of people reportedly gathered in the Afrin town of Kobane and are currently traveling to the city of Afrin in support.
Kurds in other countries around the world, such as Lebanon and Germany, are also protesting Turkey’s operations in Afrin.
Turkey itself has even detained nearly 600 people for social-media posts criticizing the invasion, according to Reuters.
Candace Colburn faced some challenges in her career. As an African-American female, the 28 year old Airman is a minority among minorities. These are not her challenges, though, they’re just her demographics. Staff Sergeant Colburn, stationed at the 802d Security Forces Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, is the model of today’s USAF Security Forces troops.
“My personal experience has been awesome,” Colburn says. “I know people always have their points of view – some people might say because I’m a minority people may treat me differently. Or because I’m a female, I might get lighter treatment. But I’ve been afforded my opportunities because of my abilities.”
She owns her challenges as much as she owns the rest of her career. After I interviewed her, Candace sent me a fact sheet about herself. The struggles she faced are listed before her successes.
“I’m a cop – a K9 handler, but I want to go to OSI (Office of Special Investigations) to be an investigator,” she says. “I got picked up to be on the base Tactical Response Team. I went SWAT School, Basic Combat Medic School, I trained Emirati forces in UAE… I’ve had so many opportunities because of the military. No one ever treated me different because I was a girl – in fact, my kennel master took it upon himself to research if women were allowed in air assault school because he thinks I should go.”
Colburn and the 802d recently sat with former Air Force combat photographer Stacy Pearsall as a part of Pearsall’s Veterans Portrait Project (VPP). The VPP honors veterans from every conflict, hearing their stories, thanking them for their service and preserving their image for generations to come. In 2008, the first year of the VPP, she photographed over 100 veterans. Since then, she’s made portraits of nearly 4000 more. See more of the VPP here.
Growing up in Newark, Delaware, Colburn always wanted to be a Marine, but her father wasn’t having it. Her Dad told her if she were to enlist, he wanted her in the Air Force. If that was the way, so be it, but she wanted to be a dog handler – which requires three years time in service. At age 22, she joined the as Security Forces and was soon deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, where her challenges really started.
“We were mortared everyday,” Colburn recalls. “But I’m an adrenaline junkie. I loved my time there. I even volunteered for the Balad Expeditionary Strike Force, a tactical response team, so I was both in and outside the wire all the time. I always challenge myself. My Iraq deployment was my favorite, because UAE and Qatar were too easy… it was too easy to become complacent.”
Her experience would leave a lasting impression. Like many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the signs and symptoms were most visible when she returned to her home duty station.
“I don’t know how I fell into alcoholism,” she says. “My life started changing after Iraq and I started drinking. Mental Health told me I had signs of post-traumatic stress but I soon PCSed and fell out of following up on treatment. When I admitted I had a problem, I was scared I would lose my Security Forces job.”
Rather than lose her job for her issues, the Air Force worked with her, sending her to rehab and then through the Air Force Drug Demand Reduction Program (ADAPT) program. Colburn won’t take all the credit, though.
“It was my dogs who helped me recover,” Colburn says. “I don’t know why I love dogs, they comfort me… they got me through a lot in life. I graduated ADAPT early because I made so much progress because of my dogs.”
After three and a half years as a dog handler, three deployments, and three special assignments with the Secret Service supporting the President and Vice-President, Staff Sergeant Candace Colburn lives on a farm with her own dogs, Sonny and Gunner, near San Antonio. She commutes to her unit at Lackland, Texas to work with Kormi, her partner.
“In my experience,” Colburn says, “alcoholism is not something to handle on your own. I’m a very strong person but it took an outsider to see that I wasn’t okay. You have to be strong enough to say ‘I need help’.”
For more information about the Veterans Portrait Project or to donate to keep preserving the images of American veterans visit: http://bit.ly/1unnLV4
Moscow has for months been accusing the US of aiding ISIS in Syria, and on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense finally tweeted out “irrefutible evidence” of the collusion.
But it turns out the evidence was just screenshots of a video game and old videos from Iraq, according to Bellingcat.
“#Russian_Mod shows irrefutable evidence that #US are actually covering ISIS combat units to recover their combat capabilities, redeploy, and use them to promote American interests in Middle East,” the Russian Ministry of Defense tweeted, in a now-deleted tweet.
One of the pictures in the tweet of the US supposedly covering an ISIS convoy leaving the Abu Kamal region was actually a screenshot from an AC-130 gunship simulator video game, Bellingcat reported.
Below is a side by side screenshot provided by Bellingcat of the Russian screenshot and the video game screenshot:
Russian Ministry of Defense’s “irrefutable evidence (left) and video game simulator (right). Screenshot/Bellingcat
The other three images were also not what Russia claimed, but instead from videos shot in Iraq in 2016.
“The Russian Defense Ministry is investigating its civil service employee who erroneously attached wrong photo illustrations to its statement on interaction between the US-led international coalition and Islamic State militants near Abu Kamal, Syria,” the ministry said, according to TASS.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has since deleted the tweets of the false images. However, some images are still up, including the one below, which is actually pinned to their page.
But Michael Kofman, a senior research analyst at CNA, told Business Insider that while the images still up are not from the video game or old videos from Iraq, “they are really blurry and incredibly difficult to verify.””It’s impossible to tell, but I suspect none of this footage is real,” Kofman said, adding that even if they were images of ISIS convoys in Syria, it doesn’t prove that the US is aiding the terrorist group in any way.
“The claim itself is actually ridiculous,” Kofman said, with a laugh.
American tankers were slightly late to the armored game, historically. Britain first rolled out the tank in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, before America even joined the war. In fact, America wasn’t even able to get its first tank, the M1917, to production in time to fight in World War I.
But America came roaring back in World War II with pioneers of armored doctrine, including the first American tank officer, George S. Patton. Since then, tanks have had a respected place in the pantheon of American combat arms. Today, tankers drive the M1 Abrams tanks into battle. Here’s what makes them so lethal.
Abrams tanks are highly mobile, capable of propelling themselves at speeds of over 40 mph despite their approximately 68 short tons of weight. That weight goes even higher if the tank is equipped with protection kits like the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK).
Once it gets within range of its target, the Abrams crew can fire their 120mm smoothbore cannon, the M256A1. The cannon can use a variety of ammunition including high-explosive, anti-tank (HEAT) ammo; canister rounds that are basically tank-sized shotgun shells; and sabot rounds, depleted uranium darts that shoot through armor and turn into a fast-moving cloud of razor-sharp, white-hot bits of metal inside the enemy tank.
Marines with 1st Tank Battalion fire the M1A1 Abrams tank during the 11th Annual Tank Gunnery Competition at Range 500, Feb. 20, 2016. The competition was divided into six segments to test the skills of the tank crewmen. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi)
These tank rounds make short work of most enemy tanks, but they’re also heavy. Loaders have to move them from storage racks to the gun by hand, and each round weighs between 40 and 51 pounds.
A pallet full of 120mm rounds sit waiting to be loaded and fired from the M1A2 tanks during gunnery. Considering that just one 120mm round weighs roughly 50 pounds, an entire 14-tank company is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
While Abrams can survive open warfare, crews prefer to hide and maneuver their tanks into better position as often as possible to protect the tank from enemy infantry, armor, and air assets. Covering the tank in local camouflage is a good first step, and using the terrain to mask movement is important as well.
Concealment is tricky in a tank, but it increases survivability and allows the tanks to conduct ambushes.
Army and Marine Corps logistics officers have to work hard to ensure the heavy tanks can always be deployed where they are needed. While Abrams can be airlifted, its much cheaper to ship them by boat.
When it would be dangerous or too expensive to drive the tanks to their objective, they can be loaded onto trains or special trucks for delivery.
But the most impressive way to deliver an Abrams is still definitely driving it off a plane.
The tanks can operate in most environments, everything from snow-covered plains…
An M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 in Trzebien, Poland. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
…to scrub-covered plains…
Marines with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fire a M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank during their annual training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 19, 2016. Marines fired the tanks to adjust their battle sight zero before the main event of their annual training. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gabrielle Quire)
…to sandy deserts.
An M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank fires suppressive rounds at targets during Hammer Strike, a brigade level live-fire exercise conducted by the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Johnston)
To make sure they can always get to the target, tank units sometimes bring specially equipped engineers with them. The Assault Breacher Vehicle is built on the M1 chassis but features a number of tools for breaking through enemy obstacles rather than a large number of offensive weapons.
The front of the breacher is a plow that can cut through enemy berms, creating a path for tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle drives through a lane in a berm during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd Tank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The main purpose of the plow is to scoop up and either detonate or remove enemy mines. Mines that don’t go off are channeles to the sides of the path, creating a clear lane for following tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle uses its mine plow in order to scan the surrounding area for potential threats during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd ank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The breacher vehicles can quickly create a lane through IEDs by firing one of their Mine-Clearing Line Charges, a rocket-towed rope of explosive cord that explodes approximately 7,000 pounds of C4, triggering IEDs and mines.
The M1 Abrams is still a titan of the battlefield, allowing tankers to be some of the most lethal soldiers and Marines in any conflict.
Marines from Company C, 1st Tank Battalion, prepare their tank for the day’s attack on Range 210 Dec. 11, 2012, during Steel Knight 13. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. D. J. Wu)
The Army is now seeking to finesse a careful and combat-relevant balance between upgrading the current Abrams and Bradley to the maximum degree while also recognizing limitations and beginning conceptual work on a new platform called Next-Generation Combat Vehicle.
While the Army is only now in the early stages of concept development for this technology, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout Warrior that it may indeed evolve into a family of vehicles.
A fleet of similarly engineered vehicles would be designed to allow each vehicle to be tailored and distinct, while simultaneously improving maintenance, logistics, and sustainment by using many common parts; the objective would, of course, be to lower long-term lifecycle costs and extend the service life of the vehicles. However, of potentially much greater significance, similar engineering, vehicle structures, and configurations could definitely expedite upgrades across the fleet as enabled by new technology. This could include new sensors, sights, electronics, force tracking systems, and a range of C4ISR technology.
Many Army comments have indicated that the configuration of the new vehicles may resemble hull forms of an Abrams, Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, Bradley, or even elements of a Stryker vehicle. However, it is without question that, whatever NGCV evolves into, it will be built to consistently accommodate the best emerging technologies available.
For instance, Army developers explained that some early developmental work inolved assessing lighter weight armor and hull materials able to provide the same protection as the current vehicle at a much lower weight.
“We could look at some novel material, such as lightweight tracks or a hull replacement,” Lt. Col. Justin Shell, the Army’s product manager for Abrams, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Key parameters for the NGCV will, among other things, include building a lighter-weight, more mobile and deployable vehicle. Weight, speed, and mobility characteristics are deemed essential for a tank’s ability to support infantry units, mechanized armored units, and dismounted soldiers by virtue of being able to cross bridges, rigorous terrain, and other combat areas less accessible to existing 70-ton Abrams tanks.
Bassett explained that specific cross-functional team leads have begun to explore concepts and early requirements for the NGCV effort to, among other things, look for common, cross-fleet technologies and build in flexibility.
“Cross functional teams are defining the art of the possible as we look at what technologies are available,” Bassett said in an interview with Scout Warrior. “We could change some assumptions. We want to give the Army some flexibility.”
One possibility now receiving some attention, Army senior leaders say, is that the NGCV may implement a lightweight 120mm cannon previously developed for one of the Manned-Ground Vehicles developed for the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems program. The vehicle, called the Mounted Combat System, was built with a two-ton 120mm cannon roughly one-half the weight of the current Abrams cannon.
The Army’s MCS program developed and test-fired a super lightweight 120mm cannon, called the XM360, able to fire existing and emerging next-generation tank rounds.
The MCS was to have had a crew of two, a .50 caliber machine gun, and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
The Army’s recent Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically mentions the value of adapting the XM360 for future use.
“Next-Generation Large Caliber Cannon Technology. The XM360 next-generation 120mm tank cannon integrated with the AAHS will provide the M1 Abrams a capability to fire the next generation of high-energy and smart-tank ammunition at beyond line-of-sight (LOS) ranges. The XM360 could also incorporate remote control operation technologies to allow its integration on autonomous vehicles and vehicles with reduced crew size. For lighter weight vehicles, recoil limitations are overcome by incorporating the larger caliber rarefaction wave gun technology while providing guided, stabilized LOS, course-corrected LOS, and beyond LOS accuracy.”
Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.
Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.
While not specifically referring to a T-14 Armata’s unmanned turret or Russian plans for an autonomous capability, Basset did say it is conceivable that future armored vehicles may indeed include an unmanned turret as well as various level of autonomy, tele-operation, and manned-unmanned teaming. The prospect of integrating “autonomous vehicles” into future armored platforms is, as noted above, also specified in the Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization strategy.
Accordingly, Basset also emphasized that the future NGCV vehicles will be designed to incorporate advanced digital signal processing and machine-learning, such as AI technologies.
Computer algorithms enabling autonomous combat functions are progressing at an alarming rate, inspiring Army and General Dynamics Land Systems developers to explore the prospect of future manned-unmanned collaboration with tank platforms. It is certainly within the realm of the technically feasible for a future tank to simultaneously control a small fleet of unmanned robotic “wing man” vehicles designed to penetrate enemy lines while minimizing risk to soldiers, transporting ammunition, or performing long-range reconnaissance and scout missions.
CINCU, Romania – Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry Regiment, Montana Army National Guard, take up defensive while participating in Exercise Saber Guardian 16 at the Romanian Land Force Combat Training Center. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Baltos, 24th Press Camp Headquarters).
“The Chief has stated that all future vehicles will be tele-operated. We take those things into account and we’re are going to get some great experimentation in this area,” Bassett said. “There are things you can do in a next-gen vehicle which you cannot do in a current vehicle due to physical requirements.”
Levels of autonomy for air vehicles, in particular, have progressed to a very advanced degree – in part because there are, quite naturally, fewer obstacles in the air precluding autonomous navigation. GPS-enabled waypoint technology already facilitates both ground and air autonomous movement; however, developing algorithms for land-based autonomous navigation is far more challenging given that a vehicle will need to quickly adjust to a fast-moving, dynamic, and quickly-changing ground combat environment.
“There is a dramatic difference in size, weight, and power performance if you make something tele-operated,” Bassett said.
On September 11, 2020, 19 years to the day of the horrible attacks on America, President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne for his actions in Iraq during the rescue operation that freed 70 hostages from imminent execution at the hands of the Islamic State.
Payne will be the first living member of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force or Combat Applications Group to receive the Medal of Honor and the first since two Delta Force Operators received them posthumously in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
That’s right, we can see how the rescue mission unfolded that night as Payne, his fellow Delta commandos and the Kurds went in and saved the lives of the hostages.
On October 22, 2015 Payne, then a Sergeant First Class, took off with his team and partner units and made their way toward Hawija, located outside of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. They had intelligence passed on to them that numerous hostages were being kept there in two houses. The Kurds were convinced that the hostages were captured Peshmerga fighters and were eager to get them freed. The teams had practiced for over a week to get their mission down but had to move fast. Freshly dug graves had been spotted outside of the enemy compound and it was feared the hostages would meet a grisly end soon.
Flying in on CH-47s, the rescue mission experienced a brown out upon landing and came under immediate fire from enemy forces. As they made their way toward the compound, the Kurdish troops froze under fire. One of Payne’s teammates looked at them and yelled, “Follow me”. The team moved toward the compound and made their way over the walls.
There were two buildings and the rescue mission involved two groups assaulting each building at the same time. As Payne’s team got to their target, a radio call came over saying that one of the men in the other group was hit. The medic with Payne took off through fire toward the downed man.
The rest of the team entered their objective where they met light resistance. They saw an iron door with a lock on it and cut the lock. Upon opening the door, they saw the excited faces of the hostages. As they rounded up the hostages, another call came over the radio. The second objective wasn’t as easy as the first and the rescue team had met fierce resistance.
Without missing a beat, Payne looked toward his men and said, “Hey, let’s get into the fight. Let’s go.”
If there was ever a mission that Payne and his team was ready for, it was this. It was the reason their unit was created in the first place. The Army won’t admit it, but Payne and the rest of his team belong to a unit informally known as Delta Force.
Known as the best of the best of the United States military, Delta got its start in the late 1970s thanks to LtCol Charlie Beckwith. Beckwith had long pushed for the United States military to have a commando unit that was on par with the British SAS. The spate of terrorist kidnappings that took place in the 70s by Islamic extremists and Far Left European terrorist groups. Beckwith organized and formed the unit and placed an emphasis on counter terrorism. The team relentlessly practiced drills involving hostage rescue. As the years passed, Delta Force became the leaders in clandestine operations and asymmetrical warfare. The standards to get in are high and only the best of the best make it.
Sergeant Major Payne was about to show why he belongs in that group.
Payne led his men toward the second building and made their way to the roof, while taking small arms fire the entire time. Once on top of the building, they took fire from west of the building and from inside it. The enemy was right below them. Payne and his men returned fire and dropped grenades through holes in the roof. They took fire and hear several explosions as ISIS fighters started detonating suicide vests. Realizing they needed another way in, they maneuvered down the steps and set up shop right outside the building. At this point, the structure was on fire with enemy combatants still inside. Even more pressing was that the remaining hostages were locked inside as well.
Payne and his team first tried to breach the windows but couldn’t. They then looked through a door and saw the same type of iron door as the first building. They found the hostages. Payne grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and made his way into the building, only to take on enemy fire. Ignoring the bullets and smoke from the burning building he struggled to get the bolts cut. When the smoke and fire got too thick he had to leave after cutting the first one. A Kurdish soldier ran in to cut the second one but couldn’t because of the gunfire and smoke. Payne then grabbed the cutters and ran back in again.
He managed to get the bolt cut this time. The door swung open and the remaining hostages were in sight. The rest of the team rushed in to engage the enemy, but as they neutralized them another calamity was occurring. The building was starting to collapse. They had to get the hostages out while they were still engaged in a firefight. Payne led the way. Waving them on, he guided them out the room and to safety. When one of the hostages froze, Payne pushed him along and got everyone moving.
By this point the building had gotten so bad, that there was a call to evacuate the structure. The team and the hostages made their way out, with Delta and the Kurds laying down fire as the hostages ran. But Payne didn’t go just yet. He had to make sure they had done their job.
He ran back into the building once more and saw a hostage that had been lying on the floor. He grabbed him off the floor and dragged him to safety. Once out, he went back in one last time.
He had to make sure no one was left behind.
Only after visually making sure that his men, the Kurds and the hostages were all out, did Payne leave. The teams and hostages boarded the helos and took off toward safety. They had done it. They had freed the hostages, but there was a cost.
Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was the operator that was hit early in the mission. The teams learned only then that he had died. His last words to his men as he led them into the fray was, “On me!”
70 hostages owe their life to Payne and the rest of the rescue team. How close were they to death? They told their rescuers that they were told they would be executed the next day after morning prayers….
Three nurses and a physician’s assistant have resigned from an Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs facility after maggots were discovered in a veteran’s wound.
The center in Talihina, Oklahoma, has reportedly had staffing issues.
According to a report by the Tulsa World, the veteran, Owen Reese Peterson, 73, who served during the Vietnam War, arrived at the center with an infection prior to his Oct. 3 death.
Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Myles Deering, a retired major general in the Oklahoma National Guard, claimed that Peterson “did not succumb as a result of the parasites” but instead died from sepsis.
According to WebMD.com, sepsis is a “serious medical condition” that is triggered when chemicals released to fight an infection in the body instead cause inflammation. It can lead to organ failure and death. As many as half of those with severe cases of sepsis end up dead.
“During the 21 days I was there, … I pleaded with the medical staff, the senior medical staff, to increase his meds so his bandages could be changed,” Raymie Parker, Peterson’s son, told the Tulsa World. Parker claimed that his requests were “met with a stonewall” by senior medical personnel and administrators.
“The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is required to maintain certain staffing levels and currently is unable to meet them,” Oklahoma State Sen. Frank Simpson, Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs chairman, said. “At Talihina, they had to reduce the population of veterans there due to the inability to staff the facility.”
The four personnel resigned prior to the commencement of termination proceedings. In 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs was rocked when two veterans — 86-year-old Louis Arterberry and 85-year-old Jay Minter — died in the Claremore Veterans Center. Minter died after he was scalded in a whirlpool, and Arterberry died of a stroke.
A physician’s assistant was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of caretaker neglect. He ultimately served a 90-day jail sentence.
Model Kate Upton, born in 1992 and in 2011 voted as “Rookie of the Year” for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, took to Instagram to share a special photograph! “Feeling pretty lucky to be able to experience a P-51 Mustang flying over Wrigley field! #chicago #wrigleyfield #bucketlist #selfie,” she captioned the photo.
Not only did she take a beautiful selfie, she also recorded a video of the three other escorting P-51 Mustangs for you to enjoy. “Thank you to all those that have served! #veterans #p51mustang #wrigleyfield @WWIImuseum,” Kate Upton wrote.
Editorial Note: Don’t blame me.. It’s all candy to the eye!
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) fired warning shots at a group of Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf on Jan. 8. The incident comes less than two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
According to Reuters, the shots were fired after the Iranian vessels ignored requests by radio to slow down as they approached the American warship and came within 900 yards.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired on U.S. Navy vessels using Iranian-built Noor anti-ship missiles this past October. The destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) defeated three attacks in the space of a week, and USS Nitze carried out a retaliatory strike on radar sites. This past September, while campaigning for the White House, Trump vowed that Iranian vessels harassing U.S. Navy forces would be “shot out of the water.”
The Iranian vessels were described in the Reuters report as “fast attack vessels.” These vessels, sometimes called “Boghammers,” are speedboats with a variety of weapons, including rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.
According to “Combat Fleets of the World,” Iran has over 180 of these vessels. During the Iran-Iraq War, they were used to attack oil tankers.
A July, 1988 skirmish between those speedboats and the cruiser USS Vincennes and the frigates USS Sides and USS Elmer Montgomery lead to the downing of an Airbus passenger jet.
The USS Mahan is the first of seven Flight II Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. These ships have a five-inch gun, a 29-cell Mk 41 VLS forward, a 61-cell Mk 41 VLS aft, Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems, and two quad Mk 141 launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.
Legendary U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis once said, “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Service members who have deployed during today’s complex conflicts likely have a special appreciation for Mattis’ assertion that the mind matters most.
In an era where the military is heavily involved in both combat operations and nation-building, troops are often expected to simultaneously sustain focus, make nuanced, split-second decisions about the use of force, and reach back into their memories to draw on their training during high-stress situations.
These efforts require a high frontal cortex functional capacity. The frontal cortex helps us with both emotional regulation (being able to think and not just react) and upper level cognition (focus). These brain functions comprise our working memory capacity, and interestingly, we can improve that capacity with the use of some well-studied, relatively simple exercises.
Unfortunately, although the military emphasizes the importance of physical training and does a wonderful job creating developmental stress opportunities, it doesn’t do a great job training service members to rest, or do the restorative practices needed to maximize the mind’s growth opportunities.
Restorative practices move our bodies to a rested state between action and sleep. These practices matter because they increase our physical and mental performance, which are important both in and out of the military. The same things that make you a better warrior can also make you a better parent, partner, employee, and friend.
Why does mental fitness training matter?
For active duty servicemembers and veterans alike, mental fitness training should include stressors alongside very intentional mental recovery time. When both are combined, physical and mental performance increase, clarity of thought improves, and you’re able to slow your reaction times in the right contexts.
The good news is you don’t have to wait for the military to provide this training – you can train yourself.
But before we get to the training part, let’s take a quick look at what happens in your body during and after you encounter stressors.
Think about the last time you experienced stress. Maybe it was being stuck behind a slow driver in traffic or gearing up for a mandatory run with a wicked hangover. Maybe it was being in a firefight or being lost somewhere. Here’s a snapshot of what happens in your body in those scenarios: Your brain is operating in an active state, indicated by what researchers call Beta waves. This is a high-functioning mental space. As the stress is registered by your brain, a chain reaction fires. Your body releases cortisol (a stress hormone), adrenaline, and a host of other chemicals to help you cope. It also releases a hormone called DHEA into your bloodstream.
DHEA’s entire role is to help your brain grow from the stressor you just survived. The hormone increases synaptic firing and neural connectivity (you’ll think faster) and increases working memory capacity (emotional regulation and focus). DHEA is what makes stressful experiences worth your time, but there’s a catch: although the hormone is released when your body or brain are stressed, it only does its work during recovery time – when your body and brain consciously downshift.
One of the best, validated ways to move your brain to this state is through mindfulness-based stress reduction, or – as it is more commonly known – meditation.
Meditation takes your brain from Beta state (alert, on guard) to Theta space (at rest, but aware). When you sleep, your brain produces Delta waves (deep, dreamless sleep).
Mediation is one of the fastest ways to give your mind and body the space they need to turn stress into strength. Even if you only dedicate 15 minutes each day to it, you’re likely to see dramatic changes in your ability to focus and regulate emotions within a week or two of practice.
Every hurdle you jump over and every stress or trigger you encounter becomes more useful if you carve out recovery time. Meditation is performance enhancement – it trains us for mental fitness.
How can I train myself?
You don’t have to run to an island somewhere to start experiencing more calm – it’s something you can easily make part of your day.
Learn mindfulness meditation (takes about 10 minutes). It’s simple to teach, simple to learn, but not simple to practice – it may take some getting used to. I like iRest.us (it’s been validated specifically in military community). It’s simple and a great place to start.
Ritualize your practice by making mindfulness a regular part of your day. Prioritize this opportunity for growth.
Track your progress. How did you mentally feel week 1? Week 2? Write down wins so you can remember them. A great journal might work for you.
Continue your practice daily.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
U.S. and partner nation service members participating in Pacific Partnership 2018 and Sri Lankan surgeons, assigned to Base Hospital Mutur, conducted the first ever robot-assisted surgery aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy on May 4, 2018.
The joint team of multinational surgeons and medical professionals successfully completed a cholecystectomy, or gall bladder removal, using a Da Vinci XI Robot Surgical System on a Sri Lankan citizen. This surgery marked the first time the Da Vinci Robot has been used on a live patient aboard a maritime vessel from any country.
“This was a historic moment for both Sri Lanka and all the partner nations participating in PP18,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Gadbois, director of surgical services aboard Mercy who is a native of Mukilteo, Washington. “Not only was this the first time the Da Vinci XI Surgical System has been used on a patient while aboard a ship, but it also marked the first robotic-assisted surgery to be conducted in Sri Lanka. It was an exciting experience and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of this ground-breaking moment for the surgical field.”
Prior to the actual surgery on May 4, 2018, Gadbois, along with Dr. Vyramuthu Varanitharan, a general surgeon at Base Hospital Mutur, and Navy Cmdr. Tamara Worlton, a surgeon from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center assigned to Mercy for PP18, ran through simulation exercises using the Da Vinci XI Surgical System on a mock patient and finalized surgical plans as a team.
“This surgery took a lot of planning before we actually performed it aboard the Mercy,” said Worlton. “Dr. Varanitharan was kind enough to prescreen possible candidates prior to the Mercy’s arrival to Sri Lanka.”
On April 28, 2018, the team selected a patient who needed a cholecystectomy and was willing to have a robotic-assisted surgery performed. According to Worlton, all the preparation and collaboration put into planning before the operation paid off and the entire surgery was completed in a smooth and routine manner.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey L. Adams)
“I believe the surgery was a success because of the continuous collaboration between our partner nations’ medical staff prior to the surgery where we discussed different surgical techniques the different countries do and how it could be incorporated into the surgery.”
The surgery marked an additional first for Dr. Varanitharan, as this was also the first surgery he has conducted aboard a ship during his entire medical career.
“This was the first time I have ever operated aboard a ship before and it surprised me,” said Varanitharan. “It is very stable and doesn’t move around. It felt as if I was doing surgery in an operating room in a hospital. It was a fantastic experience to have been able to do surgery on a hospital ship and it is something my team and I will never forget.”
After the surgery was successfully completed, the patient was transferred to the Mercy’s post anesthesia care unit to recover and was later discharged from the ship in excellent condition for her routine post-operative follow up care by Varanitharan.
Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral disaster response preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific. This year’s mission includes military and civilian personnel from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Peru, and Japan.
USNS Mercy made previous stops in the 2018 mission in Bengkulu, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and are currently in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. After departing Sri Lanka, USNS Mercy will make mission stops in Vietnam and Japan strengthening alliances, partnerships, and multilateral cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Pacific Partnership 2018 consists of more than 800 U.S. and partner nation military and civilian personnel working side-by-side with host nation counterparts to be better prepared for potential humanitarian aid and disaster response situations.