The headlines in Georgia read that the country will one day join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – whether Russia likes it or not. The man who made the declaration is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The Secretary was visiting Georgia at the end of a set of joint NATO-Georgian military exercises.
No firm date has been set but the Kremlin, long opposed to Georgia’s membership in the anti-Russian alliance, can’t be pleased with the idea of another NATO country along its border.
From the 2011 Film “Five Days of War,” about the Georgian side of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War.
The Russians have occupied part of internationally-recognized Georgian territory since capturing it in 2008. The aftermath of that conflict saw Russian occupation of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian recognition of those territories as sovereign states, and a permanent Russian military presence in both areas. Thousands of Russian troops are stationed there to this day. Georgia still considers those areas to belong to Georgia.
That same year, the NATO membership decided Georgia would definitely become a NATO member one day. Secretary Stoltenberg reaffirmed the commitment of NATO allies to Georgia, saying there was nothing Russia can do to prevent the move.
“We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do,” he said. “No country has the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.”
American and Georgian troops during military exercises in the Caucasian country.
Georgia has been in what Russia considers its sphere of influence since the days of the Tsar, which can put the country in a precarious situation so close to its powerful neighbor. Ukraine has also been trying to escape Russian influence since the fall of the Soviet Union and has tried to do so by moving closer to joining the NATO alliance. Russia considered Ukraine’s membership in NATO to be a direct national security threat, which led to the unofficial invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia used similar tactics in the lead-up to its 2008 invasion of Georgia, including the use of Russian-backed insurgents, Russian-made weapons, and even the first use of concurrent cyberattacks during a conventional armed conflict. If the Russian Army made such an aggressive move on Georgia as a NATO member, the attack would trigger NATO’s Article 5 – that an attack on one member country is an attack on all countries.
American troops with the NATO flag in Afghanistan.
The first and only time Article 5 was automatically invoked, the alliance took immediate action. Less than a day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, struck the United States, NATO member countries informed the United Nations they were invoking Article 5 and that each country would take an immediate eight steps to assist the United States. While provoking the alliance isn’t Russia’s style, the addition of Georgia could still lead to a war.
On three separate occasions, the collective defense agreement came to member state Turkey’s aid at the request of Turkish officials. In 1991, 2003, and again in 2012, the NATO alliance responded with allied troops, weapons, and equipment to the call for aid from a NATO ally. A buildup of allied troops near the border with the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would surely be met with a buildup of Russian troops on the opposite side.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin has not specifically responded to the recent statements made by Jens Stoltenberg, but most recently, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev warned of “a terrible conflict” brewing just by making such a move. He also questioned the wisdom of provoking such a conflict.
The first operational KC-46A Pegasus — the tanker being designed by Boeing to replace the aging KC-135 — took its maiden flight on Dec. 5.
That flight came after numerous delays and cost overruns that have stymied the tanker’s development over the past several years. Even though it got off the ground in December, Boeing admitted at the time that it would miss a self-imposed deadline to give the Air Force the first operational KC-46 by the end of 2017.
Now the Air Force expects to receive the first operational KC-46 by spring 2018, and Boeing is obligated to deliver 18 of the new tankers by October. But major defects remain unresolved, according to Aviation Week.
The most worrying deficiency is the tendency of the tanker’s boom — where the fuel flows — to scrape the surface of the aircraft receiving fuel.
The problem could endanger the aircrews involved and risks compromising the low-observable coating on stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 fighters. A KC-46 with a refueling boom contaminated by stealth coating may also have to be grounded.
Representatives from the Air Force and from Boeing told Aviation Week that they are working on the problem, with personnel from the government and industry reviewing flight data to assess such incidents and compare them to international norms.
Their assessments will help decide whether changes are to be made to the camera used for refueling on the KC-46. The Pegasus’ boom operator sits at the front of the aircraft while directing the boom, relying heavily on the camera. Older tankers have the boom operator stationed at the back of the plane to guide the boom in person. A decision on the camera is expected by March.
A Boeing spokesman said similar contact between the boom and the receiving aircraft happens with the Air Force’s current tankers as well.
A Boeing spokesman also told Aviation Week in December that an issue with the KC-46’s high-frequency radio had been resolved, but an Air Force spokeswoman said the force was still working on it, expecting to have options to address it by January.
The radios use the aircraft’s frame as an antenna, which sometimes creates electrical sparks. The Air Force wants to ensure they can never broadcast during refueling in order to avoid fires.
Issues with uncommanded boom extensions when the refueling boom disconnects from the receiving aircraft with fuel flowing have been reduced to a Category Two deficiency, an Air Force spokeswoman told Aviation Week. The solution to that problem is expected to be implemented in May, the spokeswoman said.
The Air Force still expects the first operational KC-46s by late spring, arriving at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma and McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Air Force Times that once testing is finished and the new tankers start to be delivered, he expects “they’re going to clear out pretty quick” to Air Force bases.
Boeing won the contract to develop the new tanker in 2011, and the Air Force expects to buy 179 KC-46s under the $44.5 billion program. Under the contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment. As of late 2017, the defense contractor had eaten about $2.9 billion in pretax costs.
Despite his limited involvement in the Pentagon’s weapons programs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to acquisition officials in November, telling them he was “unwilling (totally)” to accept flawed KC-46 tankers.
The U.S. Navy plans to begin deploying interceptors that can shoot down hypersonic missiles aboard some Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers in just a few years. Though some critics counter that the Navy’s timeline seems awfully optimistic, as no existing missile defense system has proven capable of intercepting an inbound hypersonic weapon.
Hypersonic missiles fly in excess of Mach 5, and potentially much faster than that, making them so much faster than the ballistic and cruise missiles previously employed by national militaries that even advanced air defense systems like America’s destroyer-based Aegis Combat Systems can’t find and shoot down hypersonic missiles in flight. This has raised the alarm among many within the Defense Department, both in order to field America’s own hypersonic weapons and, of course, to find ways to defend against those employed by foreign militaries.
There are different methods of achieving hypersonic velocities with a missile, including scramjet propulsion that often requires either a rocket-assist at launch or deployment from fast moving aircraft, as scramjet motors require a high volume of airflow in order to effectively operate. Conversely there are also hypersonic “glide vehicles,” which are traditionally carried to a high altitude using a rocket motor similar to those employed on intercontinental ballistic missiles. The hypersonic glide vehicle then separates from the booster and travels back to earth at exceedingly high speeds. In fact, some of these missiles travel so fast that the kinetic transfer of their impact is enough to sink a vessel without the need for an explosive warhead.
The United States has been fairly public about its efforts to begin fielding its own suite of hypersonic missiles in the coming years, but until recently, America’s Defense Department has echoed the popular consensus that hypersonic weapons can’t be stopped. Now, however, America’s Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS) is seeing rapid development for the purposes of deployment specifically (at least initially) aboard America’s advanced destroyers.
America already relies heavily on its fleet of Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers for missile defense, which some critics have called a waste of destroyer bandwidth. When serving in an air defense role, U.S. Navy destroyers are left criss-crossing specific areas of ocean to maximize their ability to intercept inbound missiles, which, some argue, is a waste of a platform that’s capable of supporting a wide variety of defense operations. However, it seems the U.S. Navy’s plan for hypersonic defense will also leverage the multiple launch tubes available on America’s destroyers, effectively guaranteeing the continued use of destroyers for missiles defense for years to come.
The RGPWS system has apparently been designed specifically for use in the Mk. 41 vertical launch tubes utilized by America’s destroyers and other vessels, which will allow this hypersonic-intercept capability to be rapidly deployed and adopted aboard existing vessels with little need for modifications. According to the Navy, this will allow America to “proliferate the capability” across the force very rapidly.
This system is specifically tailored toward the glide-vehicle method of hypersonic weapon propulsion, designed to engage an inbound hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) during its un-powered glide phase, which despite its extraordinary speed, is the point I which these platforms are most vulnerable to intercept.
Of course, in order to effectively intercept HGVs, the Navy will need advanced warning of their launch. In order to do so, the Navy is working with the Missile Defense Agency and the Space Development Agency to field a new space-based sensor system that is expected to be operational within the next three years. Using the early warning provided by this new sensor array, the RGPWS will theoretically be capable of projecting the trajectory of HGVs and intercept them before they’re able to reach their target.
While the RGPWS system will be limited to destroyers initially, these systems will likely find their way into a variety of platforms, including ground and air-launched varieties. If the U.S. is able to find a way to reliably intercept inbound hypersonic weapons, America’s naval stature, and many defense official’s position on the future of aircraft carriers, will both likely shift. Currently, many law makers and defense officials are looking to de-emphasize the role of carriers in near-peer conflicts over fear of losing them to indefensible hypersonic weapons.
As for exactly how the RGPWS system will work–that much remains a secret for now.
The Navy on Feb. 21 released a NAVADMIN 039/19 directing the display of the union jack instead of the first Navy jack aboard Navy ships and craft.
U.S. Navy ships and craft will return to flying the union jack effective June 4, 2019. The date for reintroduction of the union jack commemorates the greatest naval battle in history: the Battle of Midway, which began June 4, 1942.
“Make no mistake: we have entered a new era of competition. We must recommit to the core attributes that made us successful at Midway: integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson. “For more than 240 years, the union jack, flying proudly from jackstaffs aboard U.S. Navy warships, has symbolized these strengths.”
Most members of the military will be familiar with the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, which follows the story of the men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in WWII. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks after their 1998 success, Saving Private Ryan, the miniseries has been praised for its drama and storytelling.
Using leftover props and costumes from Saving Private Ryan, and with the consulting help of surviving Easy Company veterans, Hanks and Spielberg strove to bring the stories of Easy Company to life. However, Band of Brothers did take some artistic license for the sake of storytelling and presented some glaring historical inaccuracies as a result.
A serious WWII history buff could point out dozens of small mistakes in Band of Brothers like the inaccuracies of a German Jagdpanther at Bloody Gulch, the wearing of the 101st Screaming Eagle patch during the Battle of the Bulge, or the anachronistic headset worn by a C-47 pilot taking off from England. However, this article will focus on 6 inaccuracies that actually changed important historical details or rewrote a person’s story.
A German Gebirgsjäger officer with his Edelweiss badge displayed on his headgear. (Photo posted by user SprogCollector via wehrmacht-awards.com)
Edelweiss – Part Three Carentan
During this episode, Private Albert Blithe is sent forward of Easy Company to re-establish contact with Fox Company during a night movement. Moving quietly through the darkness, he rounds a tree and is startled by a German soldier behind an MG42 machine gun. Lt. Dick Winters emerges from the darkness, further startling Blithe, and informs him that the German is dead. Lt. Lewis Nixon joins them and identifies the German as a Fallschirmjäger, a paratrooper. He further identifies a flower on the German’s uniform as Edelweiss, saying that it only grows high up in the Alps and is meant to be the mark of a true soldier.
Gebirgsjäger, German and Austrian mountain troops, wore Edelweiss badges, not flowers, on their uniforms as a symbol of pride in their mountaineering and soldiering skills. As such, it is highly unlikely that a paratrooper would adopt a symbol that held so much importance to mountain soldiers. It can be likened to U.S. paratroops taking great pride in their distinct bloused jump boots. Later in the 20th century, many a nose was broken at Fort Benning by paratroopers who caught a non-paratrooper wearing bloused jump boots.
Shooting POWs – Part Two Day of Days
This episode serves as the catalyst for the many rumors about Ronald Speirs shooting German POWs on D-Day. In it, Don Malarkey jogs away from a group of prisoners being watched over by Lt. Speirs and another Dog Company paratrooper when he hears automatic gunfire from behind him—the implication being that Speirs executed the prisoners. In later episodes, the rumors evolve from Speirs shooting a few prisoners, to shooting eight, shooting twenty, and even shooting a drunk sergeant for refusing to go out on patrol.
In a video interview, former Dog Company trooper Private Art Dimarzio recalled capturing three Germans on D-Day with Speirs and a sergeant. “The LT called us together in a bunch and he said, ‘…you take one,’ they were all laying in a ditch, ‘I’ll take this one, and sarge you take that one.’ And we paired off and we shot the three of them.” DiMarzio also noted that, a few hours later, they came upon another group of Germans, all of whom Speirs shot. This account is entirely plausible given the orders issued to the paratroopers by General Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne Division.
“Take no prisoners,” Malarkey recalls General Taylor telling them. “If you were to take prisoners, they’d handicap our ability to perform our mission.”
Hitler’s suicide – Part Nine Why We Fight
The episode opens stating that it is April 11, 1945 in Thalem, Germany. A string quartet of German civilians plays Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor. Around them, other civilians clear up the rubble of their battered city under the supervision of U.S. soldiers while Easy Company soldiers look down from a damaged apartment building. The rest of the episode flashes back to Easy Company’s initial invasion of Germany before returning to the Thalem apartment where Captain Nixon informs the men that Hitler is dead.
Assuming the men have not been sitting in the same apartment listening to the same string quartet for nineteen days, this scene is anachronistic as Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. It is unclear why this error was made or why it persisted from the HBO television release to the home video release, since a simple edit to the opening statement could make it April 30, 1945. This is an extreme oversight for such a big budget production.
Lt. Dike – Part Seven The Breaking Point
Part Seven focuses primarily on Easy Company First Sergeant Carwood Lipton as he works to maintain the unit’s morale and combat effectiveness during the Battle of the Bulge. However, his efforts are hindered by their new commander, Lt. Norman Dike. Dike is rarely seen around the men, leaving them to go on walks or make phone calls at Battalion HQ. His behavior earns him the nickname “Foxhole Norman”. During the attack on Foy, Dike becomes paralyzed by fear and panics under pressure, sending a single platoon exposed on a doomed flanking mission. His poor leadership results in the deaths of many Easy Company men before he is relieved by Lt. Speirs and is eventually killed during the attack.
Firsthand accounts show that Dike was not a well-liked officer during his command of Easy Company, but he was by no means the cowardly and ineffective officer that was portrayed on screen. During the attack on Foy, Easy Company trooper Clancy Lyall saw Dike get shot in his right shoulder. Omitted from the on-screen depiction, this wound inhibited Dike’s decision-making and caused him to panic. Furthermore, Dike won two Bronze Star Medals for valor earlier in the war; one in Holland for organizing a hasty defense against, “superior and repeated attacks”, and another at Bastogne where, “…he personally removed from an exposed position, in full enemy view, three wounded members of his company, while under intense small arms fire.”
Finally, Dike was not killed at Foy. He survived his wound and became the aide to General Taylor. Dike remained in the Army for the remainder of the war, served in Korea, and eventually attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves. He also went back to Yale and earned his law degree. He worked as a U.S. Commissioner in Japan, practiced law in New York City and Washington D.C., and was even employed by the CIA for a time. He died in Rolle, Switzerland on June 23, 1989.
Master Sergeant Albert Blithe and his wife Kay. (Photo from findagrave.com)
Private Blithe — Part Three Canretan
Episode three begins with Private Albert Blithe just after D-Day when he rejoins Easy Company after the confusion of the drop. Following the fight to take Carentan, he is struck with a case of hysterical blindness. After recovering, Blithe returns to Easy Company. Following his encounter with the dead German, Blithe admits to Lt. Speirs that he didn’t try to find his unit on D-Day; instead, he hid in a ditch out of fear. Speirs tells him that he’s already dead and that he must accept that in order to function as a soldier should, “without mercy, without compassion, without remorse.”
Blithe follows Speirs’ advice and fights ferociously during the German counterattack at Bloody Gulch. After the battle, Blithe finds a dead German that he shot and removes the Edelweiss on the German’s uniform. Blithe takes the Edelweiss for himself and places it on his uniform, completing his character arc. A few days later, he volunteers to investigate a farmhouse during a patrol where he is shot in the neck by a German sniper. The episode ends saying that Blithe died from his wounds in 1948.
Blithe’s depiction is mostly true. He was stricken with hysterical blindness and he was shot by a sniper whilst investigating a farmhouse. However, Blithe was shot in his collarbone. He recovered from his wounds and was sent back to the states. He remained in the Army and fought with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. After his second war, Blithe was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Taiwan. In December 1967, while on active duty in Germany, Blithe attended a ceremony in Bastogne commemorating the Battle of the Bulge. Upon his return to Germany, Blithe felt nauseous and was taken to the ER at Wiesbaden Hospital. He was diagnosed with a perforated ulcer and died in the ICU on December 17 after surgery. Blithe had attained the rank of Master Sergeant and was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The other men of Easy Company never found out what happened to Blithe after he was wounded at the farmhouse. They assumed he succumbed to his wounds and the producers of the show did no further research. Having spent more than 20 years in the Army over the course of three wars, Blithe deserves more credit than he is given in Band of Brothers.
Winters displays the surrendered sidearm of the German Major. (Photo from We Stand Alone Together, Credit to HBO)
The surrender — Part Ten Points
The last episode of the miniseries follows Major Dick Winters and Easy Company during the last few months of the war. After the official German surrender, Winters meets with a German Colonel who offers Winters his Luger pistol as his formal surrender. Out of respect for a fellow soldier, Winters allows the Colonel to keep his sidearm. The German is surprised by Winters’ gesture and gives him a crisp salute in return.
In reality, the surrendering German was a Major like Winters. The sidearm that he offered as his formal surrender was a Walther PP (a long-barreled version of James Bond’s famous Walther PPK), which Winters accepted and kept until his death in 2011. In an interview for HBO, Winters showed the pistol and recounted the German’s surrender:
I was assigned this Major and when he walked in, he presented me this pistol and offered his personal surrender, which naturally I accepted gratefully. So that would be the end of the war for his men and this is basically the end of the war for my men. And the significance is that, it wasn’t until later when he had given me this pistol and I got a chance to look at it carefully that I realized, this pistol had never been fired. There was no blood on it. That’s the way all wars should end: with an agreement with no blood on it. And I assure you this pistol has never, never been fired since I’ve had it and it will not be fired.
Winters’ powerful and insightful words about the surrender make the scene in Band of Brothers feel like a missed opportunity. The real-life exchange between the two Majors and the impression that the symbolic pistol left would have been more impactful than the surrender shown on screen.
After the series premiere, Winters told Hanks that he wished the production had been more authentic, hoping for an “80 percent solution.”
Hanks responded, “Look, Major, this is Hollywood. At the end of the day, we will be hailed as geniuses if we get this 12 percent right. We are going to shoot for 17 percent.”
Band of Brothers is a well-made and fitting tribute to (most of) the men who fought in Easy Company during WWII. As with most Hollywood productions, the history was adapted for dramatic effect and series structure. Certain stories and experiences were modified or folded into other characters for the sake of storytelling, but the show as a whole is still one of the best portrayals of WWII to date. In the case of the aforementioned stories and experiences however, their true history deserves to be told, learned, and remembered.
For hundreds of years, humans have developed technologies that yield the maximum amount of enemy fatalities in efforts to protect the home front. As time progresses, so, too, do the methods military leaders use to strike fear into the hearts of their deadly opponents.
One such threat that dates back hundreds of years is that of a chemical attack that can strike in an instant and indiscriminately kill.
Chemical attacks were deployed on the battlefields of World War I and, although they’re looked down on by much of today’s international community, they can still be deployed at any time. Now more than ever, U.S. troops are trained to protect themselves from potential hazards using specialized gear. This gear is ranked by Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) levels, which ensure that troops have proper protection against any amount of chemical threat.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Demetrius Morgan)
MOPP levels range from zero to four. They’re based on current chemical and biological threats and can elevate in minutes, so troops must always be prepared. Over garments, gas masks and hoods, boot covers, and gloves round out the gear necessary to protect troops.
MOPP level zero is simply having all the gear stated above on-hand and ready to don. Though chemical threats are unlikely, they do exist and service members need to be ready.
MOPP level one requires the troop to don over garments. This means a chemical threat is present, so troops must remain alert, as the hazard could escalate at any time.
As the threat increases, so do MOPP levels. MOPP level two mandates that ground pounders quickly put on the both over garments and boot covers.
Moving on to MOPP level three. Service members must don over garments, a gas mask and hood, and boot covers. At this level, the threat of coming in contact with hazardous vapors is high.
Lastly, MOPP level four — which is, by far, the scariest of them all. This level requires over garments, gas masks and hoods, gloves, and boot covers to be worn as a chemical or biological threat is present in the area.
The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first-in-class aircraft carrier that’s been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns, got the first of its 11 advanced weapons elevators on Dec. 21, 2018, “setting the tone for more positive developments in the year ahead,” the Navy said in January 2019.
That tone may be doubly important for Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who has promised the elevators would be ready by the end of the carrier’s yearlong post-shakedown assessment summer 2018. Spencer staked his job on the elevators, which were not installed when the carrier was delivered in May 2017, well past the original 2015 delivery goal.
Advanced Weapons Elevator Upper Stage 1 was turned over to the Navy after testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls-Newport News Shipbuilding, where the carrier was built and is going through its post-shakedown period after testing at sea.
The elevator “has been formally accepted by the Navy,” Bill Couch, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said in a statement.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer being briefed by the USS Gerald R. Ford’s commanding officer, Capt. John J. Cummings, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator on the flight deck.
(US Navy photo Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
The testing and certification “focused on technical integration of hardware and software issues, such as wireless communication system software maturity and configuration control, and software verification and validation,” Couch said.
The Ford class is the first new carrier design in 40 years, and rather than cables, the new elevators are “commanded via electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors,” the Navy said in a news release. That change allows them to move faster and carry more ordnance — up to 24,000 pounds at 150 feet a minute instead of Nimitz-class carriers’ 10,500 pounds at 100 feet a minute.
The ship’s layout has also changed. Seven lower-stage elevators move ordnance between the lower levels of the ship and main deck. Three upper-stage elevators move it between the main deck and the flight deck. One elevator can be used to move injured personnel, allowing the weapons and aircraft elevators to focus on their primary tasks.
The Ford also has a dedicated weapons-handling area between its hangar bay and the flight deck “that eliminates several horizontal and vertical movements to various staging and build-up locations” offering “a 75% reduction in distance traveled from magazine to aircraft,” the Navy said.
Chief Machinist’s Mate Franklin Pollydore, second from left, reviewing safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator with sailors from the USS Gerald R. Ford’s weapons department.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman)
The upper-stage 1 elevator will now be used by the Ford’s crew and “qualify them for moving ordnance during real-world operations,” Couch said.
The amount of new technology on the Ford means its crew is in many cases developing guidelines for using it. The crew is doing hands-on training that “will validate technical manuals and maintenance requirements cards against the elevator’s actual operation,” the Navy said.
James Geurts, the Navy assistant secretary for research, development, and acquisition, told senators in November 2018 that two elevators had been produced — one was through testing and another was “about 94% through testing.”
The other 10 elevators “are in varying levels of construction, testing, and operations,” Couch said. “Our plan is to complete all shipboard installation and testing activities of the advanced weapons elevators before the ship’s scheduled sail-away date in July.”
“In our current schedule there will be some remaining certification documentation that will be performed for 5 of the 11 elevators after [the post-shakedown assessment] is compete,” Couch said. “A dedicated team is engaged on these efforts and will accelerate this certification work and schedule where feasible.”
Spencer during a tour of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
That timeline has particular meaning for Spencer, the Navy’s top civilian official.
The Navy secretary said at an event this month that at the Army-Navy football game on Dec. 8, 2018, he told President Donald Trump — who has made his displeasure with the Ford well known — that he would bet his job on the elevators’ completion.
“I asked him to stick his hand out — he stuck his hand out. I said, ‘Let’s do this like corporate America.’ I shook his hand and said the elevators will be ready to go when she pulls out or you can fire me,” Spencer said during an event at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC.
“We’re going to get it done. I know I’m going to get it done,” Spencer added. “I haven’t been fired yet by anyone — being fired by the president really isn’t on the top of my list.”
An F/A-18F Super Hornet performing an arrested landing aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford on July 28, 2017.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Elizabeth A. Thompson)
The weapons elevators have posed a challenge to the Ford’s development, but they are far from the only problem.
Trump has repeatedly singled out the carrier’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, which uses magnets rather than steam to launch planes. Software issues initially hindered its performance.
“They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out,” Trump told Time magazine in May 2017, referring to the new launch system. “You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.”
Spencer said he and Trump had also discussed EMALS at the Army-Navy game.
“He said, should we go back to steam? I said, ‘Well Mr. President, really look at what we’re looking at. EMALS. We got the bugs out,'” Spencer said at the event in January 2019, according to USNI News. “It can launch a very light piece of aviation gear, and right behind it we can launch the heaviest piece of gear we have. Steam can’t do that. And by the way, parts, manpower, space — it’s all to our advantage.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We’ve all heard the jokes — some are making calls for Secretary of Defense James Mattis to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential election. We’d have to admit, it’d be pretty funny because the slogan writes itself: Mad Dog 2020. For the uniformed, when you combine Mattis’ nickname with the year of the election, you’e left with a reference to a cheap, fortified wine that tastes only slightly better than “fruit-flavored” cough syrup.
First of all, let’s set a few things straight: The ‘MD’ in “MD 20/20” doesn’t actually stand for “Mad Dog,” but rather Mogen David, the company responsible for the nasty drink. The numbers 20/20 mean it’s a 20 oz. bottle filled with a substance that’s 20% alcohol by volume, which is funny because it’s actually sold at 13%.
And most importantly, General James Mattis (Ret.) doesn’t give a flying f*ck about politics.
Secretary Mattis is a military man, through and through.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White responded to an erroneously cited “source” that told them that Secretary Mattis said, “I’d kick Trump’s ass in 2020, and I just might have to!”
That is so far from the truth that the Pentagon “got quite a laugh” from it and called it “complete fiction.” Mattis is not a politician and has remained true to his apolitical mindset in Washington. In fact, one of Secretary Mattis’ greatest strengths is that he has bipartisan support.
Yes, he was confirmed under President Trump, but he has never shown any sign of support for or against either political party. This neutrality is a core component to avoiding an undesired rabbit hole that would only hinder his leadership over the defense department.
As much as the politics game sucks nowadays, it’s kind of hard to become president if you don’t play the politics game for either party.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Secretary Mattis managed to make many allies across both political parties by promising to stay true to his goal of leading the military. He was close to many staffers from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. He was confirmed immediately in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. The sole “nay” came from a senator who was opposed to waiving a clause in the National Security Act of 1947, which required being a minimum of seven years removed from military service to become the Secretary of Defense – but still agreed that he was the right man for the job.
For his efforts, he has managed to keep politics out of the way the military operates. That way, when he proposes a budget, neither side will argue with the man who is clearly the most qualified to make an estimate — his assessments are very obviously not driven by party politics.
But, you know, a vet can dream… right?
Now, this isn’t to say that he wouldn’t make a fantastic president. Mattis is unarguably one of the most brilliant minds the modern military has to offer and many of the finest presidents in America’s history cut their teeth with leading men on the battlefield before taking on the country. There’s also no denying his near cult-like following by almost everyone within the military community — he’s already got a supportive base.
But, even if Secretary Mattis were to, for whatever strange reason, decide to run for president in 2020 (which, again, just won’t happen), he’d never willingly use “Mad Dog 2020” as his slogan.
He isn’t a fan of the “Mad Dog” moniker and he doesn’t drink alcohol.
Tony Garcia knew he was in trouble. He was diagnosed with PTSD and was starting to understand why he was feeling disconnected and depressed – but he was still feeling alone in his experiences as a Vietnam War veteran.
“We were trained to be a sharp blade for fighting,” Garcia said, “but we were never shown how to come back home. I felt like nobody understood me.”
The years of silently dealing with his time in Vietnam as a soldier had nearly caught up to Garcia when he started attending weekly group counseling sessions at the newly established VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in 2011. He and 10 other veterans were some of the first veterans to meet in the new space in Harlingen, Texas, and the more his fellow veterans shared their experiences the more he recognized the similarities in their struggles.
It’s this group of veterans, and the stories they shared with each other at VA, that Garcia credits with changing his outlook on life and giving him new purpose.
Guardians of the Flag: Veterans honor legacy of Vietnam War
“That gave me the tools I needed to keep moving forward,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the VA and the therapy – I would still be lost in my depression.”
It was during one of his group meetings that Garcia learned of a special piece of history that somehow found its way to South Texas.
One of the veterans began talking about his experience at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon before it fell to North Vietnamese forces in April 1975. The Marine and Rio Grande Valley native recalled how in the middle of trying to evacuate the compound he encountered two employees trying to destroy the ceremonial flag in Ambassador Martin’s office. According to the story, the veteran approached the men who were apparently angry that they would not be evacuated and wrestled the flag from them before they could further damage it.
The veteran, who asked Garcia to keep his identity private, took the flag home with him to South Texas and kept it in his home for about 30 years. After his wife asked him to get rid of the tattered flag, the veteran gave it to a friend in a neighboring town with instructions to pass the flag along to another veteran should he ever need to part with it too.
“I couldn’t believe what they were telling me,” Garcia said. “I couldn’t believe the flag had made it all the way here and it was in somebody’s garage.”
At that time, it was an amazing story that piqued Garcia’s interest. He felt a connection to the flag even then, but he wouldn’t get to see or hold it until a few years later when his fellow veterans asked if he would take it.
“They didn’t know what to do with the flag, so they offered it to me,” Garcia said, “and immediately I said I would take it and care for it.”
Tony Garcia (left) and his fellow Warriors United in Arms members move the ceremonial flag in Brownsville, Texas.
Garcia, who had recently founded a veterans organization with several of his friends, decided the flag would not be hung up on a wall in his home or stay in storage. As the Warriors United in Arms of Brownsville, the group would find a way to protect, display, and tell the story of the flag they all felt a deep connection with.
“I really do believe this flag represents the American fighting man in Vietnam,” Garcia said. “This flag represents everything we went through as Vietnam War Veterans. Like the flag we all went and did what Uncle Sam wanted, and like the flag we were disrespected when we came home . . . I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t forgotten.”
Today, the ceremonial flag is encased and held in the main vault at the IBC Bank in Brownsville, Texas. Garcia and his fellow warriors frequently take it to local schools, businesses and events. They tell the story of how the flag founds its way to them, and they explain why it’s such an important symbol.
On 2019s Vietnam War Veterans Day, the group will display the flag at the VA clinic where Garcia first heard its amazing story. The goal, Garcia said, is to help Vietnam War veterans and show them that they are not alone.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The 1943 Battle of Tarawa was the first of the Central Pacific Campaign. There, 18,000 Marines fought a bloody, 76-hour battle to seize the heavily fortified Tarawa Atoll from 4,500 Japanese defenders, wading through hundreds of yards of surf and scrambling for cover on the nearly flat islands.
Marines take cover on the beaches of Tarawa while planning their next move forward. Conquering Tarawa would take 76 hours and cost thousands of lives.
Importantly for Marine Corps historians, that means that one of World War II’s most bloody and important battlefields will disappear under the waves — with Marine remains and artifacts still on it.
The 1943 battle for the island began with a massive naval artillery bombardment that failed to dislodge most of the pillboxes, obstacles, and defenders on the island. When troops landed on November 20, underwater obstacles in the form of coral reefs, sandbars, and other barriers caused landing craft to get stuck out at sea.
The assault on Tarawa was a nightmare. Shallow waters led to gently sloping beaches and hundreds of yards of obstacles — all factors that favored the Japanese defenders.
Undeterred, the Marines fought through barbed wire and Japanese attackers. On the second day, they were able to land tanks and artillery and punch out from the beach, starting their campaign across the tiny island.
At the end of the three-day battle, the Marines had suffered almost 3,000 casualties, including many men marked missing in action who were either washed out to sea or lost in the sand dunes and vegetation. Of the 4,500 Japanese defenders, there were only 17 survivors left. Most fought to the death as there was no way to escape the island.
After the war, the Kiribati Islands reverted to British control and then became a sovereign country in 1979. The U.S. signed a treaty of friendship later that year and then established full diplomatic relations in 1980. Since then, the relationship has been friendly if not exactly close.
The State Department says that they actively cooperate with Kiribati to repatriate the remains of Marines when discovered on Tarawa or on any other island within the nation.
Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexander Bonneyman, Jr., thought to be fourth from the right, and his men attack a Japanese position on Tarawa. Bonneyman posthumously received the Medal of Honor and his remains were recovered from Tarawa in 2015.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Obie Newcomb)
The remains of 139 service members were discovered and repatriated in 2015. One of those repatriated was 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island.
Luckily, these were well-documented battles. Historians have recovered many documents and interviewed survivors of each, and With the Marines at Tarawa was an Academy Award-winning documentary produced during the invasion. So, future generations will still see evidence of the Marine Corps’ sacrifice.
But any historians who need additional evidence from the islands better get to work soon. Time is ticking.
In 15 years in Afghanistan, no counternarcotics effort undertaken by the US, it partners, or the Afghan government has led to sustained reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production.
That was one of a number of findings of a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Report issued in June 2018, underlining insufficient, uncoordinated, and at-times counterproductive initiatives in Afghanistan to reduce drug production there.
Between 2002 and 2017, the US government has allocated roughly $8.62 billion to fight narcotics in Afghanistan. But the drug trade remains entrenched. Opium is Afghanistan’s largest cash crop, reaching an export value of $1.5 billion to $3 billion in recent years. In 2017 alone, poppy cultivation was thought to support 590,000 full-time jobs — which is more people than are employed by Afghanistan’s military and security forces.
The primary markets are Europe, Asia, and Africa. Opiates from Afghanistan travel through other Central or South Asian states — drug addiction has exploded in Iran, with opium making up two-thirds of consumption — to reach destinations in Europe and Asia. Drugs also travel maritime routes to Africa and Oceania.
Ninety percent of the heroin seized in Canada comes from Afghanistan, but scant amounts reach the US — 1% or less of the drug seized in the US can be traced back to the Central Asian country.
The amount of Southwest Asian heroin in the US peaked in the early 1980s, according to the DEA. It was replaced by Southeast Asian heroin — largely from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The amount of South American heroin found the US started to increase in the mid-1990s, but by the late 2000s, Mexican heroin started to become predominant — in 2015 it was the more than 90% of the heroin seized in the US.
(2017 DEA NDTA)
Opium has been cultivated in Afghanistan for centuries. It was under royal control from 1933 to 1973, but the Soviet invasion and occupation from 1979 to 1989 crippled the legitimate economy and allowed illegal enterprises and criminal networks to thrive.
Production soared after the Taliban took control of most of the country in 1996. But it banned the crop in 2000, leading to a 75% drop in the global supply of heroin but leaving farmers destitute, as no alternative to poppy cultivation was provided.
Cultivation was at a historic low in 2001, when the US and its coalition partners invaded. Counterdrug work was done in the period that followed, but the vacuum created by the lack of functioning Afghan institutions limited their effectiveness.
2004 saw an increase in cultivation, which was followed by more concerted US efforts to staunch it as well as increased counternarcotics efforts by coalition partners. Cultivation leveled off in 2009 and 2010 — around the time of the US-led surge that brought more attention to combating the drug trade.
A UN survey in 2017 found cultivation had hit a new high, covering more than 810,000 acres. (The Taliban has also expanded its involvement in the drug trade.)
2017 also saw a new Trump administration strategy that brought with it an “unprecedented” level of attention to Afghan drug production by US military commanders, according to the report — marked by a “sustained air interdiction campaign” that included advanced aircraft striking rudimentary drug labs.
(US Air Force photo)
The increases in drug cultivation make clear the failure of counternarcotics efforts, the report says, but it stresses that those failures are not the only factors that have led to the increases.
“The exponential rise in opium poppy cultivation and drug production is rooted in far-reaching, persistent challenges in Afghanistan — namely, lack of security, a poor economy, weak governing institutions, and failures of the wider reconstruction effort,” the report states.
“Given these challenges, there are serious limitations to the US capacity to bring about large-scale, lasting reductions in poppy cultivation and drug production,” it adds, noting the opium economy will continue to undercut US efforts in Afghanistan.
“Therefore, ongoing US reconstruction efforts must effectively address, or at least attempt to mitigate, the drug-related threats to Afghan security and stability.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.