Back in the 1980s, the US supported Afghan “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union. Those fighters later morphed into the Taliban. And now, the Russians seem to be returning the favor.
Moscow said last month it was in contact with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, with the stated reason being that Russia was sharing information and cooperating on strategy to fight the local ISIS affiliate there, according to The Wall Street Journal. So far, cooperation apparently doesn’t involve cash or guns.
But it understandably has US commanders there spooked.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, has spoken out against Russia’s extension of an olive branch to the Taliban as offering “overt” legitimacy to a group intent on toppling the Afghan government.
Russia’s “narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,” Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing last month. “So this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO efforts and bolster the belligerents.”
Surprisingly, even Taliban officials say the excuse of offering help to fight ISIS doesn’t add up. Two officials disputed that characterization, including the group’s spokesman, who toldReuters that “ISIS is not an issue.” In fact, both groups forged a shaky truce in August 2016 to turn their guns away from each other, and instead target US-backed Afghan forces.
“In early 2008, when Russia began supporting us, ISIS didn’t exist anywhere in the world,” one senior Taliban official told Reuters. “Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the US and its allies.”
As the Journal reported, it’s still unclear how a Trump administration will handle Afghanistan. The situation there has steadily declined since the Obama administration ended its “combat mission” in the country in 2014, and government forces only control about two-thirds of the country now, according to Reuters.
Besides potential Russian meddling, Afghanistan is rife with political corruption and tribalism, while many civilians report to a “shadow” government run by the Taliban instead of the national one.
The Pentagon announced it was sending roughly 300 Marines back to the southern Helmand province this spring, where Marines haven’t been on patrol since leaving in 2014.
When asked about the current level of savings for commissary shoppers in an era of sweeping reforms, the interim director of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, referred to results of a price comparison survey conducted in 2016 and released in late January 2017.
It showed average savings at commissaries “globally” were 23.7 percent compared to prices at commercial grocery stores. More specifically, patron savings averaged 20.2 percent at stateside commissaries and 44.2 percent overseas.
The same survey also showed average patron savings varied widely across U.S. regions, from a high of 32.6 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to a low near 18 percent for commissary shoppers across the South Central and Mountain states.
Bianchi and staff said it is the regional cost-saving targets that DeCA monitors monthly and, in finer detail, quarterly, to ensure that steps to transform commissaries into more business-like stores are not diluting patron savings.
Price savings by region are being tracked on “a monthly basis via our syndicated data and [on] a quarterly basis via manual shops [of local stores] and using syndicated data,” a DeCA spokesman explained.
The larger price comparison survey released a year ago established a new method for calculating savings that included a proportion of prices for private label or store brands. This irked patron advocacy groups because, at the time, commissaries didn’t sell their own private label goods. The concern was that the timing served to dampen the baseline savings targets set, which DeCA, by law, must sustain forever more.
This occurred long before Bianchi become interim DeCA director in November 2017 to lead commissary transformation while also serving as chief executive of the Navy Exchange Service. Bianchi said he believes the baseline for savings, which use regional price comparisons and private labels, more accurately reflects the real value of the benefit. The previous method, which led to claims that patrons saved more than 30 percent, compared commissary prices against average commercial prices for brand goods only nationwide, ignoring popular private labels.
Steps transforming commissaries include: replacing the traditional cost-plus-a-surcharge pricing with variable pricing based on regional markets; offering DeCA-brand or private label goods as low-priced alternatives to name brands; cutting the assortment of national brands on shelves and negotiating more competitive pricing for surviving brands with brokers and manufacturers.
Patron savings are real and substantial, Bianchi said. “But messaging that, connecting that for the customer, becomes important,” and variable pricing is key.
Commissary savings can get distorted, Bianchi said, when, for example, a shopper walks into a commercial supermarket and the first item seen are bananas selling for 39 cents a pound versus 52 cents seen at the commissary.
“Even though we may be saving them lots of dollars on chicken or other commodities, they get that initial impression and say ‘Hum, am I really saving money or not?’ We know they are. So, part of what I have our team looking at are image items. As we introduce variable pricing, it will give us the capability to compete with those other retailers and manage pricing in the market.”
Patrons need to be made more aware of average savings, Bianchi said.
“So, the part I have to do is message that so they aren’t dissuaded when they see a loss leader item” in a commercial market and think their commissary benefit has lost value. “The value proposition has got to be real and clear to them.”
Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.
Manufacturers and brokers shared recent scanned sales data from commissaries that, they contend, show variable pricing and private labeling accelerating the sales drop as patrons discover favored brand names are gone.
One industry analysis noted how Duracell batteries were removed from commissaries last year. While sales data show Energizer battery sales climbing, as would be expected, battery sales overall in the commissaries have fallen.
Bianchi said it’s premature to be sounding alarms over variable pricing or the introduction of DeCA brands Home Base, Top Care, and Freedom’s Choice.
Every commissary now has some variably priced items and “initial data suggest customers are responding positively,” Bianchi said. “In fact, we are beginning to get more competitive on the items that are most relevant to our patrons, which we expect will only help our sales performance.
“However, we still have a relatively small portion of the total assortment variably priced.” In mid-January 2018 that total was only 7000 of 38,000 stocked items.
“It is, therefore, too early to draw conclusions about how this will impact commissary-wide sales trends. Initial item-level sales data and customer input make us confident this is the right approach.”
Initial private label results on bottled water, cheese, health care products, paper towels and more also are encouraging, said Bianchi. The goal is to sell 3000 to 4000 items with commissary labels.
“We continue to see sales growth and penetration levels increase, and our customers regularly tell us they are happy to have these low-cost, high-quality alternatives on the shelf. None of the items introduced to date give us any concern for the acceptance of our brands, and we will continue to roll out these products aggressively given the very positive response from patrons.”
In fact, he added, many product categories with private labels “have seen an uptick in sales relative” not seen in product categories without private labels.
Bianchi said he came to DeCA with a lot of retail experience and a fresh set of eyes. He found shortfalls in customer service, expense control and sales planning, all critical for shifting to a profit and loss environment.
“You just have a different perspective” when store expenses are covered by appropriated dollars, he said.
He found commissary shoppers uncomfortable with having baggers handle groceries for tips, Bianchi said, which might explain the popularity of self-checkout.
“How many people carry cash nowadays,” he said. “And if you go to an ATM machine you’re only getting 20s. So, we’re kind of looking at” the bagger issue.
Bianchi said he spent his first months at DeCA focused on patrons, employees and having store partner with commands and local communities. He will turn soon to repairing relationships with brokers and manufacturers who might have felt bulldozed by all the recent changes at commissaries tied to profit and loss.
“Quite honestly, as these initiatives were rolled out, there was probably a lack of transparency, which created some concern and doubt on industry’s part [and] some bad feelings,” said Bianchi. “Some folks are still remaining critical, which I think is a carryover from that.”
Industry reps who also dealt with base exchanges, which have long generated profits, likely were less startled by mindset shift at DeCA, he said.
“The reality is the business model does have to change as we move to a profit and loss environment. We want to create a win-win situation. But I will tell you, from walking floors at commissaries, we [need] an assortment rationalization,” meaning more cuts to the number of brand goods. “So, there may be winners and losers but that’s not any different than the private sector goes through every day.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force flight surgeon John Baxter showed up to work at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, to a full load of patients and completing physicals — just like any other day.
Halfway through his morning while getting his next patient, he saw that a civilian airliner had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.
While with the patient, Baxter said he noticed the background noise in the Pentagon changed. It seemed quieter than usual. Then, he heard shouts. He opened his door and saw people running and shouting, and smoke in the hallway.
At first, Baxter didn’t know if there was an explosion, a fire or some other event. Despite the unknowns, he assembled his team of flight surgeons, a nurse and medical technicians. They grabbed medical kits and traveled as a group. Their emergency plan was to meet up with other medics at the Pentagon’s DiLorenzo Clinic.
A red flower sits atop of every bench to remember the fallen on Sept. 11, 2001, during the Pentagon Memorial Observance Ceremony in Washington D.C., Sept. 11, 2018.
(Defense Department photo by Tech. Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Then they heard the news: there were casualties in corridor 5.
Baxter’s team ran to the spot. They found Army veteran Brian Birdwell, who was in excruciating pain from burns. It was a situation that Baxter was unexpectedly prepared for: Months earlier, in an emergency exercise, the flight clinic trained for the same scenario that unfolded on 9/11: a plane crashing into the Pentagon.
John Baxter still serves at the Pentagon, though now as a civilian flight surgeon. For this week’s Born the Battle Podcast, Baxter details his story of 9/11 and the days that followed.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
USAFA cadets do, in fact, kill, skin, cook, and eat rabbits in the Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training Program. The “sustenance” portion of the class teaches cadets how to find water as well as skin and cook a wild animal.
Air Force spokesman Zachary Anderson told the Air Force Times in July 2016 the Air Force tries to find the best balance between the humane treatment of animals and properly preparing aircrew cadets for real-world scenarios.
“The Air Force is aware of PETA’s concerns,” Anderson said. “However, the use of animals in Air Force survival training plays a critical role in equipping our airmen with skills needed to stay alive in a combat environment.”
While PETA wants the USAF to get out of the animal business entirely, the animal rights group also alleges the rabbits are sourced from a business that routinely violates the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Citing a FOIA request, PETA says the academy doesn’t file proper reports to the Department of Agriculture on the number of rabbits and chickens used and that the dealers aren’t even registered with the Agriculture Department.
“We were contacted by an individual who reported that cadets bludgeon docile, domesticated rabbits to death during these training exercises,” PETA Senior Laboratory Methods Specialist Shalin Gala wrote the Colorado Springs Independent. “This person expressed concern that cadets do not actually learn anything from killing tame animals who are used to being handled by humans… USAFA has previously informed the media that cadets are taught to kill animals with a rock or club.”
The Department of Agriculture did not have an open investigation at the time of the academy’s refusal to give up the practice.
The Air Force Times‘ Stephen Losey found the animals are sourced from Fancy Pants Rabbitry, a Gunnison, Colorado-based supplier. Fancy Pants’ owner Kathy Morgan, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
“Our rabbits are raised in compliance with USDA standards as far as cage sizes and operations, so we are comfortable our rabbits are raised in the best possible conditions,” Morgan said. “They are treated humanely, and when necessary, they are dispatched humanely. I’m comfortable with the quality of our product and the quality of their lives while they’re with us.”
Fancy Pants sold roughly 300 rabbits per year for the past two years to the USAF Academy. PETA is correct that Morgan’s business is not registered with the USDA. Because it sells rabbits as food and meat, it is registered with the FDA.
There is a precedent for giving up meat in the field. DoD directives require that other means of training besides animals are to be used whenever possible. PETA was instrumental in the animal “sustenance” portion of the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds survival course and the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center, saying tame chickens and rabbits are unlikely to be found in a combat zone.
The animal rights group wants the academy to switch to book and classroom learning.
On Oct. 26, 2018, Microsoft said it plans to sell artificial intelligence and any other advanced technologies needed to the military and intelligence agencies to strengthen defense, the New York Times reported.
Microsoft decision, which the Times said was announced in a small town-hall style company meeting on Oct 25, 2018, contrasts sharply with the decision of its rival Google, which has said it will not sell technology to the government that can be used in weapons.
“Microsoft was born in the United States, is headquartered in the United States, and has grown up with all the benefits that have long come from being in this country,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith was quoted in the report as saying.
The debate about military AI among US tech companies comes as the Pentagon is in a race with the Chinese government to develop next-generation security technologies.
The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.
Employees within tech companies have protested against their companies’ involvement in military and federal law enforcement work. For example, thousands of employees signed a petition, and some even resigned, after revelations that Google had sold artificial intelligence technology to the Pentagon to analyze drone footage.
Others, such as Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have shown their support for the U.S. military. In a recent interview, Oracle founder Larry Ellison said of Google, “I think U.S. tech companies who say we will not support the U.S. Military, we will not work on any technology that helps our military, but yet goes into China and facilitates the Chinese government surveilling their people is pretty shocking.”
Likewise, Amazon is seen as the forerunner for winning a cloud computing contract with the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Google recently dropped out of that same bid, saying it would conflict with corporate values. As for Microsoft, it’s also seen as a strong contender for that contract.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service details how China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has undergone a stunning modernization push that puts it near parity with the US.
In fact, China’s military posture and prowess in the Western Pacific presents the US with a challenge unseen since the end of the Cold War.
By perfecting deadly ballistic and cruise missiles, by buying and designing submarines, planes, and surface ships, by cracking down on corruption and improving internal organization and logistics, the PLAN presents US naval planners with plenty to think about going forward.
Though few expect a military conflict to emerge between the world’s two biggest economies, China’s brinkmanship in the South China Sea has lead observers to describe their strategy of escalation as a kind of “salami-slicing,” or steadily taking small steps to militarize the region without taking any one step that could be viewed as a cause to go to war.
However, the US military, with its global network of allies, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing which conflicts to get involved in, and therefore must take every threat seriously.
In the slides below, see how the PLAN has shaped into a world-class navy capable of dominating the South China Sea, and even the entire Western Pacific, if left unchecked.
China’s naval mission
Those who observe China’s specific modernization goals, as well as their expressed intents in their actions, have determined that the PLAN’s mission most likely focuses on the following goals:
1. To possibly curb Taiwan’s continued attempts at independence militarily.
2. Asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and generally exercising more control over the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of trade passes every year.
3. Enforcing China’s assertion that it has a legal right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone, despite the protestations of their neighbors in the region.
4. Defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication with military and trading partners.
5. Usurping the US as the dominant regional power in the Western Pacific, and promoting China as a major world power.
China’s DF-21D “Carrier Killer” ballistic missile is the cause of much concern for US naval planners. The missile has a tremendous range of about 810 nautical miles, far beyond the range of a US aircraft carriers’ highest-endurance planes, effectively denying them the luxury of lurking off China’s coast in the Western Pacific while in striking range.
The DF-21D uses a range of sensors to adjust its course during firing. This means that it can hit a moving target at sea in sub-optimal conditions and presents difficulties to any missile trying to intercept it. The DF-21D can deliver a high-explosive, radio-frequency, or even cluster warheads, which all but guarantee a kill, even against a formidable target such as a US aircraft carrier.
The PLAN’s submarine fleet continues to undergo a modernization push that focuses on “counter-intervention” tactics against a modern adversary. The force has acquired 12 of Russia’s Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines and launched no fewer than four new classes of indigenously made submarines, all of which are vastly more capable than the Cold-War era vessels they’re replacing.
The PLAN has launched two diesel-electric (Song and Yuan class), and two nuclear classes (Jin and Shang class). But the Shang class was stopped after only two hulls were produced, which led the DOD to speculate that the PLAN may be exploring an updated version of this class.
As the DOD states:
Over the next decade, China may construct a new Type 095 nuclear powered, guided-missile attack submarine (SSBN), which not only would improve the PLA Navy’s anti-surface warfare capability, but might also provide it with a more clandestine, land-attack option.
Additionally, the Jin class can be armed with 12 JL-2 nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which, given the submarine’s range, could potentially hit any of the 50 states in the US from locations in the Pacific.
The PLAN’s Russian-bought submarines remain some of the most capable in the fleet. Eight of the 12 Kilo classes (presumably the newer ones) carry the Russian-made SS-N-27 Sizzler cruise missiles, with a range of over 180 miles.
The PLAN possesses a large, varied inventory of cruise missiles. Some of their most capable missiles are Russian made, like the SS-N-22 Sunburn and the SS-N-27 Sizzler, but their indigenously made missiles are also rated highly.
China’s YJ-18 cruise missile goes into a supersonic-sprint phase when approaching a target, making it harder to stop. Other rangy platforms like the YJ-62, fired from surface ships, and the YJ-12, that can be fired from bombers, complicate the US’s naval plans with their versatility.
The PLAN’s sole carrier, the Liaoning, has been referred to as a “starter” carrier, as its limited range and capabilities have made it primarily useful as a training craft. Having an aircraft carrier allows the PLAN to test carrier-launched aircraft and carrier-strike-group procedures in a realistic way.
The Liaoning has a displacement of about 50,000 tons and can support about 30 aircraft. US Nimitz-class carriers double both of those figures, and also provide catapults to launch planes with heavier weapons and fuel loads, increasing their range.
As the Liaoning is conventionally powered, and not nuclear-powered like the US carriers, it’s ability for long-range power projection is greatly diminished.
China is thought to be making rapid progress toward building additional aircraft carriers. Little is known of China’s future carriers, but they will most likely also feature the ski-jump platform of the Liaoning.
With the help of the Liaoning, the PLAN has succeeded in fielding the J-15 “Flying Shark” carrier-based aircraft.
The J-15 is modeled after Russia’s Su-33 “Flanker,” just as much of China’s military hardware borrows from Russian designs. On land, the J-15 has a range of about 745 miles, but launching the plane from a ski-jump-style carrier platform means that it cannot carry as much fuel, and therefore has a reduced range. Only eight production J-15s are known to be flying at this time.
It has been previously reported that the PLAN seeks to create a short takeoff, vertical-landing plane for carrier-based use in the future. However, they still lack carrier-based reconnaissance plane like the US’s E-2 Hawkeye.
The PLAN’s Air Force has been steadily developing new aircraft for “missions including offshore air defense, maritime strike, maritime patrol, antisubmarine warfare, and, in the not too distant future, carrier-based operations.”
The PLAN has been replacing their aging Chengdu J-7 variants and Shenyang J-8B/Ds with 24 Su-30MK2s, which were purchased from Russia in 2002.
Additionally, the PLAN has a licensed copy of Russia’s Tu-16 Badger bomber, the H-6 Badger, of which they likely have 30. The bombers are escorted by JH-7 Flounder fighter/bombers.
The PLAN, like most modern navies, is also pouring money into drones.
“Some estimates indicate China plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023,” according to the DOD.
Much like the submarine program, the PLAN’s fleet of surface combatants has grown rapidly since 1990, with the purchase of four Sovremenny-class destroyers from Russia and the launch of 10 new classes of indigenously built destroyers and frigates, as well as a new class of corvettes.
US naval planners consider several of the newer frigate classes to be nearly as capable as Western models, and note that shipboard air defense have notably improved in the newer classes.
China’s coast guard, which it wields as a sort of paramilitary force for enforcing their maritime claims, has also benefited from a large number of new cutters.
The newer ships have sophisticated radar and missile capabilities across the board, and future vessels are expected to truly rival the systems used by the US.
China has built four large YUZHAO class amphibious transport docks, which provide a considerably greater and more flexible capability than the older landing ships, signaling China’s development of an expeditionary warfare and OTH (over the horizon/long range) amphibious assault capability, as well as inherent humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and counter piracy capabilities.
The Yuzhao class vessels carry helicopters as well as two Russian-designed Zubr class cushioned landing ships, the largest military hovercraft of its kind.
However, after conflicts in Africa, the PLAN was unsatisfied with the firepower aboard the Yuzhao class and reportedly thought to create a new vessel, the Type 081 (pictured above).
Perhaps one of the more novel ideas being explored by the PLAN is very large floating sea bases. Only in the concept stage currently, these floating bases could host airstrips, barracks, docks, helipads, or security bases across their massive proposed 2-mile-long surface.
But experts on the topic speculate that these platforms would have ample peacetime uses, like supporting offshore oil rigs or even tourist destinations with duty-free shops.
The DOD cites Bill Gertz, writing for The Washington Times, as saying the following:
China’s military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against US aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report made public on Thursday [July 21]…. The report, produced in 2005 and once labeled “secret,” stated that Chinese military writings have discussed building low yield EMP warheads, but “it is not known whether [the Chinese] have actually done so.”
China also possesses a nuclear triad, or the ability to launch nuclear-armed warheads from submarines, land-bases silos, and bomber aircraft.
China’s development and deployment of advanced and long-range radars in the South China Sea is well documented.
The PLAN can use these sensors, which “reportedly include land-based over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radars, land-based over-the-horizon surface wave (OTH-SW) radars, electro-optical satellites, radar satellites, and seabed sonar networks,” to guide their ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as more conventional forces.
China’s military writing does not specify how they would use cyberwarfare in a naval conflict, but it should be assumed that network warfare would be part of any sea battle. The PLAN is known to have invested heavily in cyberwarfare.
The PLAN and the other branches of China’s massive military have made impressive progress in modernizing they forces, but they still lag behind in some key areas.
The US Navy, unlike the PLAN, has commitments around the world. Currently two carrier-strike groups are stationed in the Mediterranean as the fight against ISIS rages on and Russia continues to threaten NATO territory and personnel.
The US would face extreme difficulties in abandoning their posts worldwide to focus on the Pacific, whereas China would leverage every possible dimension of warfare (psychological, informational, legal, cyber, conventional, and possibly even nuclear or electromagnetic) to assert their dominance in their immediate region.
However, the US has a built-in advantage that the Chinese cannot hope to design or buy — alliances. Through the US’s solid support of democratic and Western-leaning nations in the region, they have built a network of strong and determined allies that can band together against a rising authoritarian power like China.
Description: Orange, red and black with tire tread and pictures of palm trees, surfers and marching soldiers. If found, please return to Dana Cummings, no questions asked.
Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran, is bummed about the missing leg, but said it’s par for the course for adaptive surfing with one leg in San Diego.
“No, it’s still MIA,” he said. “Still out there floating somewhere. I built another one out of some parts I have and still have to glue the tread on. I lost one in Long Bay 10 years ago. Three weeks later it washed up two miles down the beach. Maybe someone in Tijuana will find this leg.”
That won’t stop him from bringing his organization, AmpSurf, to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, Sept. 15 to 20, 2019, in San Diego. More than 150 veterans with various disabilities from across the U.S. will travel to California for a week of adaptive adventure sports and lessons in sailing, surfing, kayaking, pickleball, and cycling.
Dana Cummings lost his prosthetic leg while surfing a couple weeks ago in San Diego, but that won’t stop him and AmpSurf from coming to this year’s National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
Cummings and AmpSurf will take many of those veterans out for the first time in their lives on the water and teach them how to catch a wave.
“This is the thing. Not trying to make world-class surfers out of these guys and women. Not trying to make them adaptive surf champs. We just want to focus on their abilities. We don’t focus on what you can’t do. To get that rush of riding the wave, the sensation of feeling that wave, it helps these veterans get more active.
“Everybody else out there may focus on the disability. When I walk down the street, people can’t help but stare at the leg. But through surfing, we are focusing on their abilities. I don’t care if you don’t surf again after that, but hopefully people go home and realize they surfed for this one week, they can do anything.”
Cummings never surfed when he had two legs. He served in the Marine Corps from 1989 to 1995, including a tour in Desert Storm. While driving his family in a Volkswagen bus in 2002, a vehicle in front of him slammed on the brakes to make a U-turn. Cummings whipped his vehicle to the side and took the brunt of the impact, crushing his legs.
“I remember the first prosthetist asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I told him I wanted to surf. And he said, ‘That’s probably not going to happen. You have to be realistic.’
“And I was like, ‘F you!’
“I got on my laptop, found another guy who told me he’d help me make it happen. I was surfing a week after I got out of the hospital. Those first two waves I caught l was laying down, but just happy to be there. The next time, I was able to stand up for two seconds.
Jason Wheeler rides a wave in on a handstand. He said surfing helps make him whole again.
“Now I can ride a long board forever. If I can do this, a fat, little farm guy from Maine, anybody can do this.”
Cummings discovered something else in the surf, too. It was like magic pill for his post-traumatic stress and other issues from the war.
“Surfing is my therapy,” he said. “I used to be on all these medications for depression, anxiety and PTSD. I don’t take any of them anymore. I surf. I surf almost every day. And I can tell, when things are going haywire, I have to go get in that bottle. And thank God VA realizes surfing is therapy. It’s natural.
“Mentally, physically, spiritually, it does all that.”
Since that day he took his first surfboard out, Cummings went on to start his organization that now has chapters in California, New York and New England, with another one starting in Oregon.
“We’ll take anyone out — veterans, blind, kids, anyone with disabilities. It’s funny, I kind of chuckle at it sometimes. I just got back from Oregon and was washing out these wet suits and I never imagined this.”
Changing minds, saving lives
After one event, he sent a survey to participants. A Navy veteran wrote back and said she was thinking of killing herself only days earlier, but AmpSurf changed her mind.
Jamil-Anne Linton said she was in such a deep depression with PTSD that she saw no way out.
“I was extremely suicidal,” she said. “But being out in the water, I didn’t have that fear. It helped me focus. The first time I was catching that wave, I got this feeling of humility, but also a feeling like I was on top of the world. And I love that feeling.”
Dana Cummings said his organization has taught veterans, children and others with disabilities to surf, such as Rumi Walsh — the daughter of a veteran — who lost one of her arms.
Now she’s paying it forward. She went back to school to become a registered nurse and is working with mental health patients. She also continues to surf every week with Cummings and spread the word about his program.
“On a day I’m extremely stressed,” she said, “I go out on the water.”
“I can do it again”
AmpSurf made the difference, too, for Army veteran Jason Wheeler. He was injured while parachuting out of a Blackhawk helicopter during a training exercise, eventually losing both legs above the knee. The collision with the ground caused sight damage and he’s also legally blind.
“I had never even surfed before then,” Wheeler said. “But you get this energy from the water. You get that one solid wave. You know, you have good days and bad days, and you don’t know what it’s going to be. Surfing is just a like a day. When you wipe out, you say, ‘I can do it again.’
“It gives us a way of focusing on the abilities we can do. When you think about the negativity, it’s going to drown you, and that’s why we have so many suicides. Or you can surf and become whole. We’re all whole, we’re just like Rubik’s Cubes, just broken apart. Some of us just need to be put back together to become beautiful art.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The US Air Force used the results from a 2015 US Army test of commercial magazines to make its decision to replace Army magazines with Magpul’s Gen 3 PMAG, according to Air Force officials.
The Air Force put out guidance in July that all government-issued M16/M4 magazines – including the Army’s new Enhanced Performance Magazine – will be replaced by the Magpul PMAG. The announcement occurred in the “USAF AUTHORIZED SMALL ARMS and LIGHT WEAPONS ACCESSORIES (as of 28 July 17).”
Military.com asked the Air Force how it came to the decision to choose the PMAG, and it sent the following response:
“When pursuing any capability based requirement, and before conducting any tests, the Air Force will first work closely with our joint partners to see if they have conducted any testing,” said Vicki Stein, a spokeswoman for Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.
“In this instance, we utilized the US Army Aberdeen Test Center’s M855A1 Conformance Testing on Commercial Magazines to make our decision.”
Military.com contacted Program Executive Office Soldier for comment on this but has not received a response yet.
In May, the Army announced it was planning to evaluate how well the service’s M4 and M4A1 carbines perform using a polymer magazine as part of a Solder Enhancement Program project that was approved in February, according to Army weapons officials at the NDIA’s Armaments Systems Forum.
What is interesting is that the Army test report on commercial magazines that the Air Force used to make its decision is dated Jan. 2015, according to Stein. US Army TACOM didn’t unveil its new Enhanced Performance Magazine until 2016.
The Air Force should be commended for using the Army’s existing test data rather than conducting a redundant test to make its decision.
The question that remains unanswered is why didn’t the Army come to the same conclusion as the Air Force and choose the PMAG when it appears that the service’s own test data shows the PMAG as the top performer.
Soldiers have used PMAGs in their weapons in combat for years because of their proven reliability.
Marine Corps Systems Command in December released a message which authorized the PMAG polymer magazine for use in the M27 infantry automatic rifle as well as in M16A4 rifle and M4 carbine.
Air Force officials did say that the Army Enhanced Magazine is also still authorized for use.
But the Air Force guidance on magazines states that 1005-01-615-5169 (Black) and 1005-01-659-7086 (Tan) Magpul – Gen 3 Polymer Magazine with window will replace 1005-01-630-9508 through attrition. The 1005-01-630-9508 is the Enhanced Performance Magazine (tan mag w/blue follower) the latest US Army magazine.
The PMAG will also replace 1005-01-561-7200 MAGAZINE, CARTRIDGE (tan follower) and 1005-00-921-5004 MAGAZINE, CARTRIDGE (green follower), the document states.
A Marine in full combat gear moves through dark, frigid water, gripping an M-16 rifle, before plunging under barbed wire and through a submerged drainage pipe. It is only when the fighter shouts an order over the sound of explosions does the historical nature of the TV advertisement become clear: the Marine is a woman.
For a Corps that has struggled with the perception that it is the least welcoming of women among the military services, the new ad is part of a campaign to appeal to a new generation of Marines. It is also a bid for more female recruits for “the few, the proud,” particularly athletes capable of meeting the tough physical standards required.
“The water was 27 degrees and coated with a layer of thick ice,” said Marine Capt. Erin Demchko, describing the great difficulty of the gauntlet, all while being surrounded by camera crews. “Giving the film production staff what they wanted, while maintaining my bearing as a Marine officer and trying not to look cold, was a challenge.”
Demchko, a deputy commander at Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan, is part of the Marine Corps’ expanding effort to recruit women. The smallest military service has the lowest percentage of women, and wants at least 10 percent representation by 2019. While female Marines occasionally have appeared in ads and been featured in online videos, this is the first time a woman is the focus of a national television commercial for the Corps.
The service is battling an image problem, especially after a recent scandal involving nude photos shared online. Many were accompanied by crude, derogatory or even violent comments about women. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating the matter and several Marines have been disciplined.
But the perception of the Marines as a male domain goes back further. They were the only service to seek an exception when the Pentagon moved to allow women to serve in all combat jobs. That request was denied in late 2015 by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The Marines want more. And the ad aims to increase awareness among women about new opportunities, said Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy, head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
The message is for potential recruits to “not think that we are only looking for a few good men, that we’re actually using all of our recurring efforts to find good women as well,” he said.
The Marines don’t expect instant results. Low unemployment rates, competition among employers, and the need to increase the overall size of the Marine Corps make recruiting women a challenge.
“We’re facing headwinds now that we didn’t have even a year ago,” said Kennedy, who huddled with counterparts from the other military services last week. “There’s a train wreck coming for some folks. They’re not getting tail winds that they used to have — the high unemployment, the money that was associated with enlistment bonuses.”
Still, he said he expects female recruits to comprise almost a tenth of the Marines entering the service this year.
The ad is being released Friday. It shows a young school girl interceding when students bully another girl. It then follows her as she plays rugby and trains and serves as a Marine. Titled “Battle Up,” the commercial seeks to show the Marines’ fighting spirit and how it carries from youth through combat missions.
For Demchko, filming the commercial was unlike anything she’d ever done.
Small scenes were shot again and again, with multiple cameras following her every move. At a school for Marine Corps officer candidates in Virginia, the crew chopped through a thick layer of ice to film the scenes in the water. They followed her as she pulled herself over logs and barbed wire in the obstacle course at Quantico, known as the Quigley. And she and others shot live rounds during a convoy scene.
While the maneuvers and combat actions were familiar, “everything felt different with all the staff and cameras,” said Demchko, who grew up in Hackensack, N.J., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. She already has served a tour in Afghanistan.
While the ad “is targeted at young women who are seeking a way to challenge themselves,” she said it could entice anyone who wants to fight for their country.
“I am extremely humbled to be a part of such a big production,” she said. “Professional actors can keep their jobs, though. I’d rather be a Marine.”
A distant, flashing image of blue sky, rolling mountains and snowy rivers visited itself upon an injured soldier flying away from a violent firefight on the ground below – just barely beyond view from the naked eye.
This vivid, yet paradoxical scene is what former Green Beret Dillon Behr recalls seeing when looking down in a weary, half-conscious state from a Black Hawk helicopter while being evacuated from a near-death combat encounter in the mountains of Afghanistan.
“I was able to look back in the valley below and see a lot of my teammates still there fighting. It was a beautiful scene from a distance, yet what had just happened down below was basically hell on earth,” Behr explained.
This violence, heroism and near death for Behr is now known as the famous battle of Shok Valley in Afghanistan, 2008; the mission on that April day was called “Operation Commando Wrath.”
Behr was part of a 12-man US Special Forces A-team tasked with taking out a high-value enemy target up in the mountains; his unit was joined by another supporting 12-man Green Beret A-team and about 100 Afghan Commandos. Behr was part of the 3rd Special Forces Group, ODA 3336.
While Green Berets are, among other things, experienced with helicopter rope drops and various kinds of airborne attack raids typically employed in assaults of this kind, Behr’s unit was forced to climb the side of a mountain and attack on foot, due to the rugged terrain and relative inexperience of supporting Afghan Commando partners.
Behr recalled the combat scene on the mountain, at an elevation of about 1,000 feet, as dreary with gray rocks, some small trees and not much vegetation. The uneven terrain was accompanied by some snow on the ground and a partially iced-over river. Concrete-like looking mud huts and small villages were scattered in rows and villages along ridges of the mountainside.
Having completed Special Forces training, selection, and preparation, Behr had spent years preparing for the life-and-death combat scenario he knew he was about to encounter.
He was a trained fighter, trainer and teacher working as part of a close-knit group focused on a specific attack mission. Behr was an intelligence and communications specialist, yet like all Green Berets, he was first and foremost a fighter, equipped and ready to respond to fast-evolving combat situations.
“As we started climbing, we encountered insurgents… around 200 enemy combatants. They had the high ground and had us surrounded,” he recalled.
During a subsequent, fast-ensuing firefight, Behr and his fellow Green Berets used what rocks, small trees and ditches they could find to both avert enemy gunfire and launch counterattacks.
“We had intelligence that a high value target was going to be there, someone traditionally hard to track down. We did not know there would be so many fighters and enemy forces there. We happened upon a much larger meeting of enemy combatants than we had expected,” he said.
At one point during the unfolding 7-hour firefight, Behr was abruptly thrown to the ground by a larger caliber bullet cutting through the side of his pelvis. The bullet blew out the ball and socket of his hip.
“It was like being struck by a car or baseball bat and being electrocuted at the same time,” he said.
This near-fatal strike, unfortunately, was only the beginning of Behr’s effort to stay alive. While fellow A-Team Green Beret intelligence specialist Luis Morales was tending to his injury, a second bullet ripped through Behr’s bicep and continued on to hit Morales in the thigh.
Behr described the painful sensation of feeling a bullet cut through the muscle in his bicep as minor compared to the initial hit to his pelvis… a scenario which can make it seemingly impossible to imaging the magnitude of pain he experienced upon first being shot.
As he fought to stay conscious and his teammates scrambled to stop the bleeding, Behr himself was focused on the survival and safety of his fellow Green Berets under attack.
“I have vivid memories of laying there almost helpless and being concerned about a building across the valley that had direct access to our team. If someone was to shoot from there, we were pretty exposed. I remember directing some people on the team and having them take that out with a large bomb,” he said.
US air support then arrived to destroy attacking insurgents; shrapnel from a bomb mistakenly struck Behr, perforating his intestines.
When confronting what he thought was certain death, Behr thought of his fellow Soldiers and family back home in Illinois.
“There was a point where I thought I was going to leave this world. At one point I thought I was not going to make it, so I said a prayer to myself and felt a calm come over me. Then, all of a sudden, Ron Shurer, the medic on our team, slapped me across the face and said ‘wake up you are not going to die today,'” he said.
The intensity of the firefight, volume of enemy bullets and massive scale of the attacks are still difficult for Behr to recall and describe, the sharpness of certain powerful and violent memories have found a permanent resting place in his mind. Then, at the very moment Behr thought he might have an opportunity to live, the attacks worsened.
Just after telling Behr he would not die, Shurer himself took a bullet in the helmet right above his face. Fortunately, the bullet bounced off his helmet.
“It could have been much worse,” Behr said.
Four Americans were critically injured and MEDEVAC’ed to Landstuhl Army Medical Center and then Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Two Afghan Commandos were killed, including an interpreter.
In total, 11 Silver Stars and one Air Force Cross were awarded for the events of that day.
“The heroic part is what my team did and how they kept it together under heavy enemy gunfire. They risked their lives to get me and the other injured guys on the team off of that mountain. They were dragging and dropping me over the ledges and trying to catch me off of the ledges,” Behr explained.
Life After Near-Death in Combat
Despite this accumulation of combat trauma and near death experience, Behr has made an astounding recovery. Following medical treatment, Behr went on to earn a Masters degree in Security Studies at Georgetown University before starting a non-profit gym for injured Soldiers at Walter Reed.
When asked how he was able to go on after his combat experience, Behr said “I don’t know what else to do. We’re given abilities and skills and it is a shame to waste them. Even after we leave the military, we have a responsibility to become leaders in our communities.”
These days, after working for a period as a cyber security threat intelligence analyst at Discover, Behr now works as a professional liability and cyber liability broker for Risk Placement Services, a Washington D.C.-area firm.
In a manner quite similar to his fellow Green Berets, known as “Quiet Professionals” often reluctant to discuss the perils of combat, Behr does not wish to highlight his war zone activities. He does, however, say the experience has changed him forever.
Behr is now married to a former Red Cross volunteer who helped him recover from his injuries.
“I value relationships more than I ever did previously,” Behr said.
Behr is also involved with the Green Beret Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping Green Berets and their families. You can visit the Green Beret Foundation website here.
Some much deserved tender loving care begins August 22 in the nation’s capital. The revered US Marine Corps War Memorial — often referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial — will get new gilding on its engravings and pedestal, plus a meticulous cleaning and wax of its five immense 32-foot bronze figures, a 60-foot flagpole, and granite base.
There also will be updated lighting, new landscaping for the surrounding parkland, and improved infrastructure, according to the National Park Service.
The rehabilitation is a big project. It also uses no taxpayer funds.
The upgrade was made possible through a $5.4 million donation from businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, a man who believes in what he calls “patriotic philanthropy.”
David M. Rubenstein. (Photo from Flickr user Jean-Frédéric.)
Besides his many donations to academic, art, or hospital-related institutions, Mr. Rubenstein has donated close to $100 million in recent years for historic preservation projects to restore the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and other major sites. Now, it is Iwo Jima’s turn.
“It is a privilege to honor our fellow Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to attain and preserve the freedoms we enjoy. I hope this gift enables visitors to the Iwo Jima Memorial to better appreciate the beauty and significance of this iconic sculpture and inspires other Americans to support critical needs facing our national park system,” Mr. Rubenstein said on announcing his donation.
The Marine memorial draws 2 million visitors a year and was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the US Marine Corps. The entire original cost of the statue — $850,000 — was donated by individual Marines, friends of the Corps, and members of the naval service. Again, no taxpayer funds.
The US military is unquestionably the world’s strongest force with the world’s largest defense budget.
But throughout the 2000s, the Pentagon spent $51.2 billion on 15 major programs “without any fielded systems to show for it,” according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report.
The abandoned projects are largely the result of a lack of funding attributed to the Budget Control Act and sequestration.
Sequestration, indiscriminate budget cuts across the board that affect every portion of the military equally, is currently the greatest threat to the US military, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider.
Below are a series of the military’s modernization projects that were canceled partially because of a lack of funds:
Future Combat Systems
Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion
Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Ground Combat Vehicle program, which was also ultimately canceled.
The M1 Abrams main battle tank gets a lot of attention and respect. As well it should; it has a very enviable combat record – not to mention a reputation that is simply fearsome.
After all, if you were facing them and knew that enemy shells fired from 400 yards away bounced off the armor of an M1, you’d want to find some sort of white fabric to wave to keep it from shooting at you.
But the Abrams doesn’t operate alone. Often, it works with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, or BFV. The “B” could also stand for “badass” because the Bradley has done its share of kicking butt alongside the Abrams, including during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Incidentally the Bradley took a lot of flak early on, pun intended. People called it a “coffin ready to burn.” U.S. News and World Report placed it on their list of America’s 10 Worst Weapons. Even the legendary “60 Minutes” took its shots at the vehicle.
That said, the Bradley proved `em wrong in Desert Storm. Here are some of the reasons why:
Chain Gun Firepower
The Bradley has the M242 25mm Bushmaster chain gun, and can hold up to 900 or 1500 rounds, depending on whether you are in the M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle or M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. This chain gun can handle just about any battlefield threat. Opposing armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles, dismounted infantry, trucks, just about anything on the battlefield short of a tank can be taken out. That sells the M242 short. In Desert Storm, one Bradley even took out a T-72 with that chain gun!
An Anti-Tank Missile, Too!
But the Bradley didn’t forget the fact that tanks are on the battlefield. It has a two-round launcher for the BGM-71 Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided (TOW) missile. The BGM-71E TOW has a range of about two and a third miles, and carries a 13-pound shaped charge. This is enough to rip just about any tank to shreds. The BGM-71F attacks the top of a tank with two explosively formed projectiles.
Oh, and the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle can stow five reloads for its launcher. The Cavalry Fighting Vehicle carries ten — almost enough to take out an entire company of tanks.
The Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle can carry up to seven grunts in the back. What can grunts bring to the table? Plenty. With M4 carbines, M249 squad automatic weapons, M203 grenade launchers, M320 grenade launchers, the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile, and a host of other weapons, the grunts can add to the vehicle’s already impressive punch.
The Cavalry Fighting Vehicle carries two grunts, but they have access to the same weapons that the grunts in the Infantry Fighting Vehicle do.
The Bradley also comes in the Bradley Linebacker version. This Bradley, designated the M6, replaced the TOW launcher with a four-round launcher for the FIM-92 Stinger. Now, the Bradley could hunt aircraft and helicopters. It retained the M242, though, which still gives it the ability to handle ground targets.
The M7 Bradley Fire Support Vehicle replaced the M113-based M981, and while it still has a 25mm gun, it uses a sophisticated navigation system (a combination of GPS and inertial navigation) to serve as a reference point. The TOW system has been replaced with something far more deadly: the means to provide laser designation for anything from Hellfire missiles, to Copperhead laser-guided artillery rounds, to Paveway laser-guided bombs like the GBU-12 and GBU-24.
Other versions of the Bradley are used for command and control and for combat engineers. In short, this vehicle can do a lot.
The Bradley has not been easy to kill. During Desert Storm, only three were lost to enemy fire. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, about 150 Bradleys were lost from all causes. Still, the vehicle still allows the crew and grunts inside to survive.
It Keeps Up
One problem with the M113 armored personnel carrier has been the fact it couldn’t keep up with the M1 Abrams. The Bradley never had that problem — and was able to fight side-by-side with the M1, allowing such feats as the 24th Infantry Division’s advance of 260 miles during the 100-hour long ground war of Desert Storm.
The combat record of the Bradley also speaks volumes. In Desert Storm, Bradleys destroyed more enemy vehicles than the Abrams.
It Keeps Getting Better
The Bradley isn’t standing still. Like the M1 Abrams, it has received upgrades thoughout its career. By 2018, the new versions of the Bradley will be entering service, bringing a more powerful engine, new shock absorbers, and an improved power-management system, among other improvements.
So, before you dismiss the badass Bradley, keep these things in mind. The United States Army bought over 4,600 of these vehicles — and it has outlasted two efforts to replace it in the Future Combat Systems XM1206 and the Ground Combat Vehicle Infantry Carrier Vehicle. Not a bad track record for this vehicle!