In August, 1995, a series of events occurred that would just seem implausible today. A Taliban MiG fighter intercepted a Russian Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD, forcing it to land at Kandahar International Airport in the middle of a nationwide Civil War. The crew and its passengers were taken prisoner by the Taliban. They were held for a year while the Russian government tried to negotiate their release with the help of a U.S. senator
The 1990s were a crazy time. Even with our post-9/11 goggles off, it seems inconceivable that any number of the above could happen – just try to imagine these crazy things:
A Taliban MiG fighter
Forcing a Russian plane to land
Russian government negotiating
A U.S. Senator helping Russia
It’s all true, of course. In 1994, the Taliban exploded out of Kandahar and, by the time of this incident, controlled much of the country south of Kabul. When the Airstan plane was flying over, the Taliban were still deadlocked against the Afghan government of the time, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.
It must have been an awkward ask for Rabbani, who spent years fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, only to ask them for weapons in trying to keep it away from other Afghans.
Even Jiffy Lube makes you keep the keys on the dashboard, guys.
The Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD was carrying a load of 30 tons of weapons from Albania bound for the legitimate Afghan government when it was intercepted by a Taliban MiG-21. It was an old fighter, even in the 1990s, but was still enough to bring down the Ilyushin II.
Upon landing, the crew of seven was taken into custody by the Taliban — but the story doesn’t end there. As negotiations between the Russians and the terrorist group began to stall, American Senator Hank Brown stepped in to facilitate the talks, not only buying the Russians time, but also the crew. It didn’t hurt that the Taliban wanted some of their people freed in exchange for their prisoners.
For over a year, the Russian aircrew prepared for their daring escape. Brown managed to get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian Airstan crew maintain their captured aircraft to ensure it was in working order when the time to take off finally came. Brown visited the crew and let them know they would be maintaining it.
But not only did the crew perform its routine maintenance, they also slowly but surely prepared it for their flight home. They finally got their big chance one day, just over a year after being captured. When half of the Taliban who regularly guarded them left the group to attend evening prayers, the crew tricked the others into leaving their weapons outside the plane.
They overpowered the remaining three guards and started the engines.
By the time the Taliban noticed the plane was getting ready for take off, it was already taxiing down the runway. They tried to block their takeoff using a fire truck, but to no avail, the Russians were airborne well ahead of the truck’s position on the runway. The Taliban missed catching the escaping Russians by a mere three to five seconds.
The crew had done the impossible and the Taliban were not able to scramble intercepting aircraft in time to catch them.
They left Taliban airspace as fast as possible and set course for the UAE. By the time they landed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was waiting by the phone to congratulate them. They made it home to Russia shortly after. The crew is said to celebrate their escape from the terrible event like a second birthday. The Taliban are brutal to prisoners, and the crew of the Airstan Ilyushin Il considered the entire country a prisoner of the terror group.
“My heart really goes out to these people. I’ve seen what a poverty-stricken and miserable standard of living they have. They’re still fighting because they’ve nothing left to lose,” a member of the crew told the BBC.
Their daring escape was the subject of a Russian film, Kandagar, in 2010.
Public speaking is the name of the game for activists and politicians, but few speak with such power that the message of their words echoes for generations. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech were some of the most influential and inspiring words ever spoken. While the black and white photos in textbooks make it seem like ancient history, the speech was given on August 28th, 1963 — a mere 57 years ago.
Just this month on the anniversary of the March on Washington, MLK’s granddaughter gave a moving speech of her very own…and she’s not even a teenager yet! The history books don’t always tell the full story, so keep reading for some of the most interesting facts you never knew about Dr. King’s most famous speech.
1. MLK’s speech almost left out his “dream”
His “Dream” speech wasn’t a new concept. He used it frequently in previous speeches, so his advisor, Rv. Wyatt Tee Walker, suggested he leave it out, calling it “hackneyed and trite.” The new speech was supposed to be called “Normalcy Never Again,” but when King got up on stage as the final speaker of the day, the audience had other plans. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled out of the crowd, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Going against his advisor’s suggestion, King paused and said, “I still have a dream.” It was a bold move, but even his advisor later admitted it was the right one.
2. King didn’t write the speech alone
While some of his speech was improvised, he had help with the first draft. It was originally written by Stanley Levison and Clarence Jones, with plenty more heads coming together to create the final version.
3. The March was originally planned to leave out female speakers
Despite the innumerable women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, none were included in the original speaking schedule. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman who was on the national planning committee at the time, pushed for acknowledgment of their achievements. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the docket, but it was only after additional pressure that a woman was invited to lead it.
Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP, took the stage, saying, “We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America.”
Josephine Baker, a famous American entertainer, also spoke, telling the crowd, “You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.”
4. The March was organized by an openly gay man
Ever heard of Bayard Rustin? Most people haven’t, but he was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He strongly encouraged King to avoid violence, fundraised for the Montgomery bus boycott, and organized the March on Washington in only two months. Despite his dedication, he remained behind the scenes for a reason. He was worried that his sexual orientation would be used as an attempt to discredit the civil rights movement, so he worked virtually unseen. President Obama recognized his work posthumously, however, awarding him The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
5. Hollywood stars attended the March to draw attention
Harry Belafonte already planned to attend the March himself when he reached out to other stars to encourage their participation. He asked Hollywood studio managers to give the actors the day off so they could attend, which they did. Many A-listers attended, including Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr, Lena Horne and Burt Lancaster. The celebrity presence had two purposes; to boost media coverage, and to ease concerns about violence. The participation of so many high-profile celebrities toned down the widespread anxiety and increased support from President John F. Kennedy.
6. Wiretapping was a real concern
Speeches and marches don’t plan themselves, and the planning continues right up until the event starts. The day before King gave his most famous speech, he got together with his advisors to discuss the final version. They were worried that King’s hotel suite at the Willard Hotel wasn’t secure enough and could easily be wiretapped, however, so they met in the lobby instead, to discuss the speech.
7. Dr. King’s bodyguard was a college basketball player
George Raveling was in the audience when event organizers asked if he would step on stage to act as King’s bodyguard. As he was standing next to King, he asked if he could keep the paper copy of the speech. Raveling, now a retired basketball coach, still owns the original, typewritten speech.
8. The media didn’t care about the speeches
Today, King’s speech is celebrated and studied as one of the best speeches in all of history. Right after it happened, however, many reporters overlooked the speech almost entirely. Instead of covering the speeches given, newspapers (including Dr. King’s) focused on the size and scope of the March itself. The speech wasn’t given much attention during King’s lifetime, resurfacing in the public eye years later.
9. ‘I Have a Dream’ was rated a better speech than JFK’s ‘Ask not what you can do’ speech
In 1999, a panel of over 130 scholars rated Dr. King’s speech as the best of the 20th century. Even Kennedy himself knew what a pivotal speech it was, commending King by saying, either “He’s damned good” or “That guy is really good,” depending on who you hear it from.
Either way, we can all agree the speech was awe-inspiring and revolutionary. You can read or listen to the full speech here!
Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.
Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.
Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.
The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.
But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.
The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.
The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.
All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.
Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.
The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.
He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.
And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.
Summer is in full swing, so chances are you’ve already had a margarita or three. Yes, it’s a a great drink, if made well, but it’s become more than just a little ubiquitous. Come on, people. We can do better. In fact, tequila deserves some better company — at least from time to time. Contrary to popular belief, the agave spirit is extremely versatile. There are a wide variety of delicious bottlings to choose from and a number of excellent tequila cocktails to whip up. So, if you’re ready to extract yourself from the margarita rut, here are six tequila cocktails, and the bottles to make them.
A perennial favorite, the Paloma is a well balanced refreshing summer cocktail. While some recipes call for a sweet grapefruit soda, we prefer fresh squeezed juice. It’s just better. We also prefer to start with a crisp blanco tequila like Patrón Silver. If the Paloma is not already in your repertoire, make this one first.
2oz Patrón Blanco Tequila
2oz Freshly squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/2oz Freshly squeezed lime juice (juice from half a lime)
Dash of simple syrup
1-2oz club soda
Rim a highball glass with salt, fill with ice. Add tequila, juices and simple syrup. Top with club soda and stir. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
The firing squad is a fantastic cocktail to make in large batch for your next pool-side party. While the traditional recipe calls for grenadine, we like to substitute an organic cherry juice for a tarter drink. You can also add a little simple syrup to if you prefer. Casamigos Blanco makes a nice base for this cocktail thanks to its citrus and vanilla flavors
2 1/2 oz Casamigos Blanco Tequila
3/4oz Fresh lime juice (the juice from about 3/4 a lime)
1oz Cherry juice
4-6 dashes of bitters
Shake everything over ice and strain into a glass filled with more ice. Garnish with a lime.
The base of this recipe is quite similar to the mule, but the addition of the creme de cassis makes it a cocktail of a slightly different feather. The black currant flavored liquor pairs nicely with a minty, herbaceous, and earthy spirit like 7 Leguas Blanco.
2oz 7 Leguas Blanco Tequila
1/2oz Crème de cassis
1/2oz Freshly squeezed lime juice (juice from half a lime)
2-4oz Ginger Beer
Shake tequila, lime and crème de cassis over ice and pour over more ice. Garnish with a lime round on top.
6. Añejo Fashioned
Indeed this is a tequila version of an old fashioned (perhaps our favorite cocktail.) We recommend using a rich añejo like Casa Noble’s. It’s sweet, spicy and complex with notes that pair well with mole bitters and orange.
2 1/2oz Casa Noble Añejo Tequila
4 Good dashes of mole bitters
1- 2 dashes of simple syrup
Muddle orange peel and simple syrup in the bottom of an old fashioned glass, pour in a tequila and bitters. Add a large ice cube and stir gently.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Near-peer competition and the United States retaining its military competitive edge were among the issues the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed in an interview with Washington Post associate editor David Ignatius.
The interview — broadcast as part of the Post’s “Transformers” series — looked at the ways warfare and security are changing.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford addressed the challenges coming from Russia and China first off, using the Russian seizure of Ukrainian boats off Crimea as an example. “What took place in the Sea of Azov is consistent with a pattern of behavior that really goes back to Georgia, then Crimea and then Donbass in Ukraine,” he said.
Russia is stopping short of open conflict, the general said. Instead, he explained, Russian leaders push right to the edge. “What the Russians are really doing is testing the international community’s resolve in enforcing the rules that exist,” Dunford said.
Army Sgt. Samuel Benton observes and mentors soldiers during the Bull Run V training exercise with Battle Group Poland in Olecko, Poland, May 22, 2018.
(Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III)
In this case, he said, clear violations of sovereignty and signed agreements have taken place. The international community “has got to respond diplomatically, economically or in the security space,” he added, or Russia “will continue what it’s been doing.”
No discussion of military response
The chairman stressed there has been no discussion about a military response to the Sea of Azov incident. The United States has assisted Ukraine in defending its sovereignty, he said, and will continue to do so.
Russia is in material breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987, and the United States will withdraw from the treaty if Russia does not get into compliance with it, Dunford said, noting that the arms-control treaties negotiated starting in the 1980s have provided strategic stability.
“In a perfect world,” he said, “what I would say would be best is if Russia would comply with the INF, it would set the conditions for broader conversations about other arms-control agreements, to include the extension of [the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty].”
Ignatius asked Dunford about China, and more specifically, how China is challenging U.S. military dominance. America’s greatest military advantages are its network of allies and the ability to project military power worldwide, the chairman said. Both China and Russia understand that, he added, and Russia is seeking to undermine NATO while China is seeking to undermine America’s network of allies in the Indo-Pacific region.
On the military side, China is working on capabilities that would stop American power projection capabilities in the Pacific in all domains: sea, land, air, space, and cyberspace. “China has developed capabilities in all those domains to challenge us,” Dunford said. “The outcome of challenging us in those domains is challenging our ability to project power in support of our interests and alliances in the region.”
China’s clear aspirations
Reading China is tough, he acknowledged. The nation has been “opaque” with what it spends on defense, the chairman said, but Chinese leaders have not been opaque with their aspirations. “[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] was very clear last year … where he wants China to be a global power with global power-projection capability,” Dunford said. “Among the capabilities they are developing is aircraft carriers, which would certainly indicate a desire to project power beyond their territorial waters.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China’s technological advances concern U.S. officials. China has sunk enormous sums into artificial intelligence research, and Dunford said the nation that has an advantage in AI will have an overall competitive advantage. Speed of decision is key in today’s warfare, he said, and a usable man-machine interface would give the country that perfects it an advantage.
The U.S. competitive advantage has reduced over the past decade, the chairman said. “I am confident in saying we can defend the homeland and our way of life, we can meet our alliance commitments today, and we have an aggregate competitive advantage over any potential adversary,” he said. “I am equally confident in saying that if we don’t change the trajectory we are on, … whoever is sitting in my seat five or seven years from now will not be as confident as I am.”
The U.S. military depends of private firms to provide the military advantage. Today, that means getting the best in the world to get behind artificial intelligence research. Yet, employees at Google — arguably the best in the world — protested and backed away from engaging with the Defense Department. Ignatius asked Dunford what he would say to those employees.
“If they were all sitting her right now, I would say, ‘Hey, we’re the good guys,'” he said. “It is inexplicable to me that we would make compromises to make advances in China where we know that freedom is restrained, where we know China will take intellectual property from companies and strip it away.”
The United States has led the free world since the end of World War II, and even with some failings, the values of the United States infuse the free and open world order today, the general said, and if the United States were to withdraw, someone would fill that gap. “I am not sure that the people at Google would enjoy a world order that is informed by the norms and standards of Russia or China,” he said.
President Barack Obama will shutter an alleged Russian spy compound in Maryland Dec. 30 in retaliation for nearly a decade’s worth of cyber espionage activities.
The compound was reportedly purchased in 1972 by the then-Soviet Union as a vacation retreat. The Russian government confirmed its ownership of the compound in 1992 to The Associated Press.
Washington Life also appears to have featured some parts of the compound in a 2007 profile on one of the main houses, used by the Russian ambassador as a vacation get away.
Obama also announced he would expel 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S., mainly from Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Another compound owned by the Russian government will also be shuttered Dec. 30.
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Children love playing with toys. So, it makes sense that immature adults love playing with toys, too. A benefit of being in the military is that we can pretend like there’s actually a legitimate reason for playing along.
Somewhere along the line, a high-ranking officer saw that same immature troop accomplish some good through playing with toys and gave the following the seal of approval.
1. Nerf guns
Never underestimate the abilities of a bored infantry platoon looking for a way to let off steam. Stacking and clearing “glass houses” (which are really just white tape on the ground) and using your gun-shaped fingers as mock-weaponry gets kinda dull after a while.
What’s actually fun is when the platoons of hardened warfighters practice their battle drills in the barracks by kicking in doors and tagging each other with Nerf darts while they’re on the toilet.
2. Paintball guns
The rules of engagement are taken very seriously by troops who are deployed. First, you must establish a show of force, letting a potential enemy know you’re armed. Then, you shout, usually through an interpreter or in broken Farsi, to let the enemy know they should back the f*ck up. If they still don’t back away, you can physically “shove” them in the direction they should be going in. Finally, use of force is authorized.
Some troops find it easier to just cover their feet with colored paint than to bust out the real weapons.
3. Little, green Army men
Sand tables are used by commanders to show a rough overview of the mission. Many different things can be designated as a unit. This broken stick? The objective. And this pebble will flank in through the south — like this.
Commanders can clear away a bunch of the confusion by ordering a $5 bucket of plastic Army guys. Add a little bit of paint and you’ve got some distinct markers.
“Okay, first platoon. You’re going to wave your rifles in the air like an idiot. Second, you’re going to kneel with a radio.” (Photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)
4. Silly String
Trip wires are placed by the enemy on the paths through which troops will walk. When someone bumps into it, the attached explosives detonate. The solution? A cheap can of Silly String.
The string shoots out pretty far and is so soft and light that it won’t set off the wire. If troops spray it through a doorway, they’ll quickly discover a trap. Even if a wire is sensitive enough to be tripped by silly string, the surprisingly long range of the spray gives troops enough distance to mitigate some of the explosion.
The military has plans for everything, especially communication. Primarily, units depend on secured, frequency-hopping radios. Alternatively, troops can rely on a slightly less secure radio. In case of an absolute emergency, send a runner.
A cheap, effective, “ah-crap” plan is to use regular walkie-talkies instead of sending that runner to maintain unit integrity.
While 4K video was far from the technology of the day, the people over at AARP pulled out all the stops to get the legendary footage of history’s largest amphibious landing into the viewing technology of today. Narrated by acclaimed actor Bryan Cranston, the video series presents the personal letters and feelings of the men who landed on the beaches of Occupied France that day.
The first in the series, “Landing on Omaha Beach,” is the story of the landing through the eyes of Pfc. Dominick Bart, a 32-year-old infantryman who landed on the beach during the first wave. Cranston brings Bart’s experiences alive as he reads about the Private First Class’ experience on the beaches in Bart’s letter to his wife, Mildred.
Omaha was just one of five Allied sectors invaded that day, and one of two that would fall to the American invasion forces. Omaha’s principal challenge was the 150-foot cliffs overlooking the beach, from which Nazi guards rained death on the invaders.
Some 43,000 men assaulted Omaha Beach alone that day, and by 7:30 in the morning had managed to get through the beach to the cliffs. A half hour later, 900 American GIs were at the tops of the bluffs and assaulting the entrenched enemy positions. By 9:00 a.m., U.S. troops had cleared the beach and began moving inland. An estimated 2,000 – 5,000 men were killed and wounded in the assault on Omaha Beach alone, not to mention the four other sectors engaged by British and Canadian troops.
In 1941, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, famous aviatrix Marina Raskova lobbied Joseph Stalin to form regiments of women pilots. Out of necessity, Russia became the first country to allow women to fly combat missions and formed three regiments.
The most fearsome of these groups, the 588th Regiment, became known as the Nachthexen or, “Night Witches,” a name the women adopted with pride.
The Night Witches were not treated equally to their male counterparts. The only regiment made up entirely of women — ages 17 to 23 — wore hand-me-downs from male pilots and flew militarized crop-dusters known as Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes.
The planes were made mostly of wood and canvas and, if hit by tracer bullets, would ignite like paper. The pilot and navigator sat in open cockpits, with only small, glass windscreens to protect them from the savage Russian winters. To top it all off, the aircraft carried no radio or machine gun. The Po-2 could carry only two 220-lb. bombs at a maximum speed of 94 mph. Because of the weight of the bombs they carried and the low altitudes at which they flew, they carried no parachutes. They had no radar to help navigate through the night skies — only maps and compasses.
The courageous and smart women that made up the 588th, however, used these trainer planes’ shortcomings to their advantage. Because of the planes’ primitive construction, German radar could hardly see their approach, so they were assigned night harassment. Often operating in a sort-of stealth mode, idling engines as they neared the targets, they would glide their way to the bomb release points.
The Germans became terrified of the “Night Witches” and spread wild rumors that the women were given special injections that gave them feline-perfect night vision. Soldiers often would refuse to go outside and smoke for fear of letting the bombers know where they were. The “Night Witches” were so effective and so elusive that German pilots received the Iron Cross and a cash award of 2,000 Reichsmarks if they shot one of them down.
Dealing with daily sexual harassment on the ground and grueling night runs (sometimes up to 18 per night), the women were hardened and feared very little. However, the all-female aircrew did fear one thing above all else, and that would be what might occur if they were grounded and captured alive by the Germans.
Hint: It would not end well for the pilots, who were both female and Russian — a deadly combo when caught by the SS.
Galina Beltsova, a navigator with the Dive Bombers regiment said,
All of us were provided with one extra bullet and if I could see I was being circled by the enemy, of course, I could take out my pistol and shoot myself — as a last resort.
The female fighter pilots initially struggled, but later earned the respect of their brothers-in-arms. As a regiment, they flew more than 24,000 combat missions and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary bombs. The leader of the 588th Regiment, Irina Sebrova, became one of the most decorated pilots in the Soviet Army and was awarded the distinctions of Hero of Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Sebrova also received 3 Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class, the Order of the Red Star, and various medals.
The “Night Witches” didn’t have great planes, superior bombs, or even very much support for their unit, but they nonetheless became one of the most remarkable fighting forces of World War II.
France 24 published an interview with a man it described as a Russian paramilitary chief who provides Russian citizens access to mercenary work in Syria in which he said his countrymen had been galvanized by reports that they were taking an embarrassing loss to US forces.
“Each week I receive five or six new requests,” the man said. “Some call me by phone; others come to see me.”
He said that about 100 people in Russia’s Yekaterinburg region, where he is based, were “planning to go to Syria.”
The man said that after reports that US forces in early February 2018 crushed an advance of fighters loyal to the Syrian government — troops said to have contained hundreds of Russians — he had seen a change in the volunteers.
“Now it’s more about getting revenge than it is about money,” he said.
What it’s like to be a Russian mercenary in Syria
Russia is believed to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military. Some experts speculate it’s to conceal Russia’s true combat losses in Syria while it uses its state-run media to tell citizens the operation is cheap and effective.
For Russian military contractors, the work promises brutal and dangerous conditions in which they can expect to be asked to kill to protect business or political interests. They stand to make a decent wage, but the man said many of them don’t live that long.
“If you sign up with a private military company, you have sold yourself to them for money,” the man said.
He added: “The company can use you however it wants. What will happen to you after your death? If you’ve been turned into mincemeat, so what? They put you in a bag, close the coffin and — in the best-case scenario — send you home. In the worst, they bury you there. If you are ready to earn money by killing people and defending the commercial interests of others, then that’s fine.”
One factor contributing to the losses of Russian contractors in Syria is a lack of air cover provided by Russia’s or Syria’s military, the man said.
In the battle on Feb. 7, 2018, US airstrikes, artillery, and Apache helicopters strafed and decimated the pro-government forces, who are said to have had no anti-aircraft weaponry.
Without air power or any ability to combat aircraft, it’s unclear how Russian military contractors on the ground could do any better against US-aligned forces.
The man told France 24 that 218 Russians died in the battle, while news reports have indicated as many as 300 were killed or wounded. Russia has said five citizens may have died while “several dozens” were wounded.
How is the Kremlin playing the story?
But just because Russia’s military, which has considerable airpower nearby, didn’t protect the Russians involved in the battle doesn’t mean it didn’t know about the advance.
Citing US intelligence reports with intercepted communications, The Washington Post reported last week that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he had “secured permission” from the Kremlin before the advance.
Reuters has reported that the advance on US-backed forces was intended to gauge the US’s response, which may have been stronger than anticipated.
The paramilitary chief told France 24 that one Russian contractor had 150 men in freezers who were described to him as “minced meat.” According to the man, the families of Russians killed in the battle won’t be informed until after Russia’s election — if at all.
“We all know why,” the man said. “There’s no problem keeping the deaths secret.”
Lt. Col. John Marks, a pilot with the 303rd Fighter Squadron, logged his 6,000th hour in the A-10 Thunderbolt II at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Nov. 14, 2016.
Nearly three decades of flying and 11 combat deployments later, Marks has achieved a milestone that equates to 250 days in the cockpit, which most fighter pilots will never reach and puts him among the highest time fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.
Ever since the end of the Cold War Era when Marks began his Air Force career, the mission in the A-10 has remained the same— protect the ground forces.
“Six thousand hours is about 3,500 sorties with a takeoff and landing, often in lousy weather and inhospitable terrain,” said Col. Jim Macaulay, the 442d Operations Group commander. “It’s solving the tactical problem on the ground hundreds of times and getting it right every time, keeping the friendlies safe. This includes being targeted and engaged hundreds of times by enemy fire.”
He also said it’s a testament to Marks’ skill that he’s never had to eject, and they both praise and respect the 442d Maintenance Squadron for keeping the planes mission ready.
Marks’ early sorties were low-altitude missions above a European battlefield, so different tactics have been used in more recent sorties that have focused on high-altitude missions above a middle-eastern battlefield.
“In the end, we can cover the ground forces with everything from a very low-altitude strafe pass only meters away from their position, to a long-range precision weapon delivered from outside threat ranges, and everything in between,” said Marks.
Most combat sorties leave lasting impressions because the adrenaline rush makes it unforgettable, said Marks.
“The trio of missions I flew on February 25, 1991, with Eric Salomonson on which we destroyed or damaged 23 Iraqi tanks with oil fires raging all over Kuwait certainly stands out,” he expressed. “The sky was black from oil fires and smoke and burning targets, lending to an almost apocalyptic feel.”
“Recently, a mission I flew on our most recent trip to Afghanistan, relieving a ground force pinned down by Taliban on 3 sides and in danger of being surrounded, using our own weapons while also coordinating strikes by an AC-130 gunship, 2 flights of F-16s, Apaches, and AH-6 Little Birds, stands out as a mission I’m proud of,” continued Marks about one of the most rewarding missions of his career, which earned him the President’s Award for the Air Force Reserve Command in 2015.
Having more than 950 combat hours like Marks does is valuable for pilots in training because experience adds credibility, said Macaulay.
“I’ve watched him mentor young pilots in the briefing room then teach them in the air,” said Macaulay. “Every sortie, he brings it strong, which infects our young pilots that seek to emulate him.”
As an instructor pilot, Marks said he uses his firsthand experience to help describe situations that pilots learn during their book studies, such as, what it’s really like to withstand enemy fire.
“I like to think we can show them a good work ethic as well,” Marks added. “You always have to be up on the newest weapons, the newest threats, the newest systems. You can never sit still.”
Marks plans on flying the A-10 until he is no longer capable, which gives him a few more years in the cockpit and the potential to reach 7,000 hours.
“I love being part of something that’s bigger than any individual and doing something as a career that truly makes a difference – whatever you do in the Air Force, you’re part of that effort,” said Marks. “It’s going to be up to you to carry on the great tradition we have in our relatively short history as an Air Force.”
Narrator: Every year, the United States Postal Service takes and delivers 142 billion mailed items. If it needs to go from point A to point B anywhere in the US, the post office can do it. It survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the upheaval brought by the internet and email.
But it’s currently more than 0 billion in debt, and it’s telling Congress it will run out of cash by September and needs a billion infusion. How did this happen?
The US Postal Service has been delivering mail since before the Declaration of Independence was even signed. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster general, and it was Franklin who handled the distribution of letters from Congress to its armies during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, which authorized Congress to create the US Postal Service. This established routes and made it illegal to open anyone’s mail.
Clip: What matter if it took two weeks to go from New York to Atlanta, over a month to St. Louis? If the letter from Uncle Ben arrived a day or so later, nobody fussed.
Narrator: In 1823, it started using waterways to deliver mail, then began using railroads. 1847 saw the first issued stamps. And then the famed Pony Express debuted in 1860. In 1896, it began delivering to some rural addresses, meaning residents no longer had to go to the town post office to get their mail. By 1923, all houses were required to have a mail slot. And in 1963, zip codes made their debut.
Clip: What a system! As you can plainly see, just five little numbers, quick as can be.
Narrator: But what really transformed the post office into what we know today? That happened a few years later.
Clip: The post office stands to be swamped, overwhelmed, drowned in a sea of mail. Where do we go from here?
Narrator: In 1967, the postmaster general testified before Congress that the post office was in “a race with catastrophe.” There were all sorts of backlogs, and sorting-room floors were bursting with unsorted mail. Combined with a postal worker strike in March of 1970, led to the Postal Reorganization Act and established the United States Postal Service as we know it today.
Clip: The Post Office Department is leading the search for better ways to process and dispatch mail in the shortest time possible.
Narrator: The act eliminated the post office from the president’s cabinet and made the post office its own federal agency. It was set up more like a corporation than a government agency and had an official monopoly on the delivery of letter mail in the US. It also set up the elimination of the post office’s direct government subsidies, which were completely phased out in 1982. The post office has been operating without any taxpayer money since.
Competition from UPS and FedEx made the post office innovate on its offerings, like introducing express mail. But since its most lucrative service was first-class mail, the USPS didn’t have to worry too much about competing with other companies. In fact, the post office has partnered with both companies in the past, like when it signed a deal in 2000 that contracted its air delivery of first-class, priority, and express mail to FedEx.
So, basically, the USPS was fine. First-class mail volume peaked in 2001 at 103.6 billion pieces of mail. It operated at a loss in the first couple years of the 21st century, but by 2003, it was back to operating at a profit. In fact, from 2003 through 2006, USPS recorded a total .3 billion profit. That all changed at the end of 2006.
Clip: HR 6407, a bill to reform the postal laws of the United States.
Narrator: Enter the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Up until this point, the post office added to and removed from its retiree pension and healthcare accounts on an ongoing basis, putting money in as needed, based on its current retirees. This model is similar to the way many other companies and corporations fund their own healthcare pensions. This act changed all that.
It required the post office to calculate all of its retiree pension and healthcare costs for the next 75 years, including for people it hadn’t even hired yet, and put away enough over the next 10 years to cover them. To put this in perspective, that’d be like you only working from age 18 to 28 and then expecting to live on that income until you were 103 years old.
The timing for this was not ideal, either. Email, texting, and online payments had begun to chip away at the post office’s main business, first-class mail, which had slowly been declining since its 2001 peak. But even that decline wouldn’t put the post office in the negative.
If not for the 75-year pension and healthcare obligation, the USPS would have reported operating profits for the last six years. Once the bill was enacted, USPS had to contribute about .6 billion a year for people who had not yet retired, in addition to the normal amount for current retirees. In 2006, prior to the new bill, this was id=”listicle-2646188290″.6 billion for those who were already retired. In 2007, USPS had to put away 625% more, about billion, to cover both current and future retirees. This gave the post office an annual loss of more than billion for the year.
Additionally, the new bill restricted the post office’s ability to set prices. First-class mail, marketing mail, and other products the post office does not have a large competition for were all tied to the consumer price index, meaning it couldn’t increase rates for those products above the rate of inflation. This has caused various problems, like in 2009, when prices couldn’t be raised at all on those products, because there was no inflation.
The rule has created an environment where packages are the post office’s only profitable area. By 2010, the post office’s overall debt, which was just over billion in 2006, had climbed to billion. It sounded the alarm to Congress multiple times and was also the subject of a 2018 Trump administration report saying the pension obligation should be restructured. But nothing changed. In its most recent annual report, the post office said it had incurred almost billion in losses from 2007 to 2019. It couldn’t afford to make any payments into the fund from 2012 to 2016 and now owes about billion related to its future pension and health benefit obligations.
Which brings us to today. As with many other industries, the coronavirus has taken its toll on the post office. First-class and marketing mail have plummeted, and the post office expects a billion decline in revenue. The postmaster general has told Congress she expects the USPS to be completely out of cash by September. This would make it unable to pay its employees and could quickly cause disaster in mail delivery across the country, especially in rural areas not serviced by UPS and FedEx. So, can it be saved?
The post office is now asking Congress for a billion cash infusion along with a billion loan. The initial bailout bill Congress passed in March provided billion for the post office, far less than the billion the organization was seeking in the bill. However, President Trump threatened to veto any bill that bailed out the post office, so the bill was changed before signing to a billion loan, 13% of the billion it had originally asked for and another billion to add to its debt.
And then, in early May, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy the new postmaster general, and he will take the reins of the organization on June 15. Unlike the last three postmaster generals, DeJoy is not a career employee; he is a large GOP donor and the former CEO of a logistics company. Democrats and ethics watchdogs see the appointment as purely political, not just because of Trump’s desire to reshape the post office, but also because millions of Americans may be forced to vote by mail this year, which means the future of the post office is likely to become a political issue this spring and summer, especially if its cash flow starts running dry.
And those at risk? The 497,000 Americans who rely on the USPS for their jobs, and the 329 million Americans who rely on it for paying bills, medication, and everything else the USPS delivers through rain, sleet, snow, and even pandemics.