The three Russian journalists who were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) had arrived in the war-torn country to investigate the reported presence there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary force whose units are said to have fought in Ukraine and Syria.
Colleagues of Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko say the trio were making a documentary about the private Russian military company Vagner, which French and Russian media reports had previously reported to be operating in the CAR.
CAR officials say the journalists were ambushed and killed by unidentified assailants.
The Russian government has never officially confirmed the presence of Vagner employees in the African country and denies that the firm’s contractors act on Moscow’s orders. The private military firm is reportedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, though Prigozhin has previously denied that he is linked to the company.
Here are five things you need to know about Russian military contractors working in the CAR.
Anti-Balaka militia in Gbaguili.
1. Why are Russian contractors there?
The Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been subjected to a UN Security Council arms embargo since 2013, when an armed, mainly Muslim coalition known as Seleka seized power. Christian armed formations fought back, and the violence saw thousands killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.
In 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president of the CAR, but much of the country remains controlled by various armed formations, primarily ex-Seleka fighters and the Christian alliance known as Anti-balaka. The UN established a peacekeeping mission in the CAR in 2014.
In December 2017, Russia secured an exemption to the Security Council arms embargo, allowing Moscow to deliver arms and training for what a UN panel of experts describes as part of a multinational effort — including the European Union Military Training Mission — to boost the capabilities of the CAR’s military and security forces.
“Our only request was that the Russian delegation submit additional information on the serial numbers of the weapons…so that we can track weapons going into CAR,” AFP cited an unidentified U.S. official as saying at the time.
2. How many are there, and what are they doing?
In December 2017, Russia notified the Security Council committee overseeing the CAR arms embargo of the involvement of 175 Russian “instructors” in a training mission, according to a report by a UN panel of experts issued in July 2018. Of those personnel, 170 were identified as civilian instructors, while the remaining five were from the Russian military, the report says.
According to the panel, Russian instructors have been involved in a range of tasks, including: escorting convoys of building materials for hospitals; providing security for hospitals donated by Russia; and training police officers as a requirement for equipping them with Russian weapons.
The panel also said that a Russian national had been appointed as a national security adviser to Touadera and that the Russian is “engaging with armed groups” to discuss issues including “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, national reconciliation,” and the sharing of revenue derived from the exploitation of natural resources.
In June 2018, two government soldiers and one Russian instructor were wounded in an attack by militia fighters while traveling to the south of the country, the panel said.
3. Why is Vagner said to be operating in the CAR?
Several media reports over the past year have indicated that Vagner contractors may be working in the CAR. In March 2018, a reporter for the Russian news site Znak.com visited a facility reportedly operated by Vagner outside the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. The reporter cited a military veteran who lives in the town where the facility is located as saying that Vagner mercenaries were set to be sent “to Africa” for a “training” mission.
Two weeks later, the Russian Foreign Ministry publicly discussed the 175 Russian “instructors,” saying they had been sent to the CAR in “late January-early February,” but without indicating whether the civilian personnel were employees of Vagner or another military contractor.
The Russian investigative journalism news site The Bell in June 2018 cited an unidentified source as saying that Vagner employees were training CAR forces. And in July 2018, Yevgeny Shabayev, a leader of a Cossack organization who says he visited Vagner fighters injured in a deadly February 2018 clash with U.S. forces in Syria, published a letter stating that private Russian military contractors have operated in the CARand “an array of other African and Arab countries.”*
An editor at the Investigation Control Center, the outlet funded by billionaire Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky that financed the investigation conducted by the three journalists killed in the CAR, said on August 1, 2018that the team had reached the facility where they believed Vagner operatives were stationed but were told they needed accreditation from the country’s Defense Ministry.
The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera.
4. What is Russia’s interest?
Russia says it is seeking to restore peace in the CAR with the provision of arms and training to government forces.
“Russia’s assistance is carried out as part of the common efforts of the international community to strengthen the national security units of CAR,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Artyom Kozhin said in a March 22, 2018 statement.
But Moscow has also made no secret of its economic interests in the country’s natural resources.
“Russia is exploring the possibilities of the mutually beneficial development of Central African natural resources,” Kozhin said. “The prospecting-mining exploration concessions began in 2018. We believe these projects will help stabilize the economic situation in CAR, promote the construction of the infrastructure, and serve as a basis for drawing additional investment to the country’s economy.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Touadera in the Russian city of Sochi in October 2017, with the ministry saying that the officials “reaffirmed their countries’ resolve” to bolster bilateral ties “and pointed to the considerable potential for partnership in mineral resources exploration” and energy.
While Russia touts its weapons shipments and training efforts in the CAR as an effort to stabilize the country, the report by the UN panel of experts released in July 2018 said that new weapons obtained by government forces have motivated rebel militias to boost their own stockpiles.
“The recent acquisition of weaponry by the Government has created an incentive for the active rearmament of ex-Selaka factions,” the report said.
The panel added that armed militia representatives had told them that “since the government had opted for the military option (training, rearming, and attacking) instead of the political process, armed groups needed to be prepared.”
The experts’ report noted a worsening of the security situation in Bangui and Bambari, citing “serious outbreaks of violence, including in areas where the situation had previously improved.”
*Correction: This article has been amended to clarify that Yevgeny Shabayev’s letter stated that private Russian military contractors, not necessarily Vagner, have operated in the Central African Republic.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has become one of the most influential yet least visible decision-makers in the Trump administration, according to a Washington Post profile of the one-time Marine general’s time as the head of the Pentagon.
One area where Mattis and his aides have had outside influence was the debate over Trump’s Afghanistan policy. Mattis’ stabilizing influence came to fore in one contentious meeting about Afghanistan in the White House’s Situation Room.
During the meeting, Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist at the time, misrepresented McMaster’s position. The Post reported he called Bannon a “liar,” according to two officials who were present.
Mattis grabbed McMaster’s knee and advised the Army general to be quiet, the officials told The Post. The confrontation prompted a shocked Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, to turn to a colleague and mouth, “WTF.”
Bannon and Priebus have both been ousted from the White House. McMaster remains in his position, though rumors have repeatedly surfaced about discontented Trump loyalists seeking to force him out.
Mattis has been selective about when to push for or against specific policy moves — a strategy that has kept him in Trump’s good graces, numerous sources told The Post. The secretary’s low profile has also spared him from responding to, and becoming involved in, many of Trump’s more controversial statements.
The secretary remains highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike, and the guiding influence he seems to have exercised over senior White House officials appears to extend to Trump himself. Mattis has restrained the president’s push for muscular approaches to Iran and North Korea while tempering Trump’s desire to pull back in other places.
Trump has been criticized for giving the military broad leeway when it comes to battlefield decisions, particularly in anti-ISIS and counterinsurgent operations in the Middle East and Africa. Trump, however, has also questioned the wisdom of continued or deepened involvement in those places.
“You guys want me to send troops everywhere,” Trump reportedly said during a Situation Room meeting with his national security team regarding military action in Afghanistan and North Africa. “What’s the justification?”
Mattis told Trump that the U.S. presence in those places was needed “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”
That response drew ire from Trump, who said it could be used to justify action anywhere in the world.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed Trump, questioning whether victory was even possible in Somalia or Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, sir, you have no choice,” Mattis replied, officials told The Post. “You will be a wartime president.”
Trump ultimately decided to expand U.S. involvement in the nearly 17-year-old war, sending 3,900 more troops and intensifying the bombing campaign.
“My original instinct was to pull out,” Trump said when announcing the new policy in August. “But all of my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
When, at a ceremony or event, an emcee asks that all active military, veterans, and spouses stand together to be recognized, there is not distinction between the groups.
They all stand. If the woman is a service member or veteran, they know that when everyone stands together the assumption will be they are a military spouse. And what about military spouses? How does this make them feel? They don’t quite fit into the category of service member since they are a spouse. Although they appreciate being recognized for their sacrifice, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
Situations like this especially aggravate an already existing complicated relationship between female service members and female military spouses. Women who serve in the military are constantly overlooked and their service is devalued. They often have to defend their service to the men who they either serve with or men who never served at all. Grouping their service with the service of non-veterans is very disingenuous.
Military spouses appreciate being recognized for the work they do to support the military because it is often an unseen and thankless job. But when everyone is pushed into one category, military spouses find themselves feeling awkward or uncomfortable. The very group they are trying to recognize doesn’t feel supported or appreciated.
Instead, they still feel like outsiders.
But treated differently
As both a veteran and a military spouse, I am in a unique position to see how military spouses and service members are treated in similar situations.
Military spouses are classified as dependents, and are often treated just like the title sounds. And while some rules are made to protect the military and the member, they often make life a lot harder to be a military spouse.
A basic task like getting an identification card renewed or having repairs done to your home when you live on base require the service member. In the civilian world, a spouse is not dependent on their husband or wife to get basic tasks done. But the same cannot be said for military spouses. When I was in the military, I was treated with respect and always had great customer service.
As a military spouse, if I go on base to get help without my husband, I have found myself leaving in tears, treated unprofessionally and feeling like no one even cares. While military spouses don’t hold rank, they should be treated with respect.
Instead of support for spouses, there seems to be an unwritten rule where people can say negative things about military spouses, but if you say anything negative about a service member you are being disrespectful. Even military spouses who are just trying to engage in conversation with female service members may feel the need to tread lightly based on past experiences when stating their opinion ended up in a situation where they were humiliated.
And then there is the “I serve too” issue
Military spouses and service members use the same words to describe different things or don’t understand the other side’s experience. When military spouses say, “I serve too,” this can ruffle all kinds of feathers on both sides. For the military service member, the word service is tied to signing up to join the military and being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
While military spouses don’t serve the military in that function that doesn’t mean they don’t serve the military. Military spouses make countless sacrifices to support their service member. Maybe they gave up their career to follow their service member to the next assignment. Maybe they are the one who constantly has to take time off work or bend their schedule to accommodate the deployments, training and endless temporary duty assignments. Being a military spouse is often a lonely, hard and thankless job.
Understanding our stories
The best way to bridge the gap between military spouses and service women is by getting to know the other’s story. Until you actually meet and get to know a military spouse the only thing you know are the stereotypes. And until you actually meet and get to know a female service member all you know are the stereotypes. Stereotypes that are not good. Stereotypes that are often expanded stories or perceived truths that are rarely factual.
Military spouses are not lazy, attempting to get a free ride. Military spouses are strong, determined and are willing to bend over backwards to make military life work while taking care of their family. Many military spouses are working in careers that don’t meet their qualifications, but they have a hard time finding and keeping a job with all the demands of the military.
Female service members are not sluts, using pregnancy as a means to get out of military obligations, or fooling around with married service members. Female service members are strong, determined and work hard to make it to the rank they have obtained.
They are professionals. And, if they stay in after marriage and kids, they have to make countless sacrifices while trying to find the balance of keeping a career and raising a family.
How many stories do you know about the women who have served our country? Or how many military spouses do you know and can talk to about their experience? The only way we can close the divide is to listen to the other side.
Want to share your story or thoughts on this topic or other important topics facing the military community? Email us at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
In a foreign policy world full of different carrots and sticks, the CIA used an interesting incentive to dangle from a pole of enticements: Viagra.
Where money and guns have been the traditional tools of clandestine diplomacy, the New York Times’ CIA sources say the big blue pill was renowned by aging Afghan warlords who have multiple wives to satisfy.
Running money to informants is difficult for the Agency. To keep their assets in place (that is to say, to keep them alive and feeding information) money isn’t always the best motivator. According to the New York Times’ CIA source, the informant will run out and buy conspicuous items with his new funds.
It won’t be hard to figure out where he got those funds.
Guns are another troublesome carrot for potential informants. The CIA has to assume that – in the Afghan world of fluid allegiances – any arms given to today’s ally could be used against American troops by tomorrow’s enemy.
So a magic blue pill that revitalizes an aging man’s libido while invigorating the same man’s ego is a perfect way to cement an uneasy alliance. The nature of the gift keeps the reward from being too obvious or flashy while at the same time, not being something potentially dangerous to U.S. troops in the country.
While Viagra is relatively well-known in Afghanistan (and reportedly sold in markets in the country), CIA officers operating in remote areas have to earn the trust of tribal leaders and be careful not to offend their religious sensibilities when making the initial pitch.
They also have to be careful not to offend anyone’s ego when explaining just what the pill does.
No word on whether Cialis is planning an expansion into the Afghan marketplace.
This article is not meant to disparage Beretta’s products. The 500-plus-year-old company has supplied arms to every major European war since 1650, and the results are just what a weapons manufacturer intends their products to do. When it came to replacing the legendary M1911 as the U.S. military’s trusty sidearm, no one expected the Italian company to carry the day, but cost was the final factor for the Air Force. From there, it spread to all the branches.
The Army was not pleased.
The M1911 was a workhorse.
From 1911 to 1986, the Colt M1911 was the pistol weapon of choice for the U.S. military. These days, most military personnel don’t require or train on a pistol, but in the days of the 1911, most absolutely did. The American-built weapon was a trusted, durable weapon for decades and many, many wars – and still hasn’t been entirely replaced. But ultimately, the 1911 was replaced because of capacity.
World War III was supposed to be fought in the forests and fields of Europe, where American and NATO troops would face an onslaught of Soviet men who may be fighting in human wave attacks. Planners wanted to give Western fighting men as many rounds as possible to fight their way out, so it seemed natural that decreasing the size of a round while increasing capacity allowed the average G.I. Joe to carry and load more bullets. The M9 would allow for twice as many rounds per load.
The Italian-owned company Beretta submitted its Model 92S handgun to the U.S. Air Force-led Joint Services Small Arms Program in 1978. The Air Force was tasked with finding a sidearm that was suitable for all branches of the military. Beretta went up against other heavyweights of the firearms industry, including Heckler Koch, Colt, and Smith Wesson, to name a few. To everyone’s surprise, the Air Force declared Beretta, the clear winner.
It was not a welcome surprise for the Army. The Army declared the Air Force tests invalid due to what they called testing discrepancies. So they conducted the trials again under Army supervision. While all this hoopla over the test results was happening, the U.S. Navy purchased the Beretta with features demanded by the JSSAP.
The Army went ahead with a third trial anyway, set for 1984. In this trial, Beretta submitted an improved Model 92 up against SIG Sauer’s P226 model, both vying to be the U.S. military’s M9. While both performed admirably, Beretta’s lower overall cost won it the day, and the Army declared the Italian-made pistol its new sidearm of choice.
Since being declared the M9, there have been more than 600,000 Berettas ordered by the U.S. military. American arms manufacturers were incredulous, leveling any number of charges against Beretta, including accusing the Italian company of having access to SIG Sauer’s initial bid to the Pentagon.
The M9 was a workhorse in its own right.
But the Beretta did not last as long as the M1911 did in the U.S. arsenal. After 30 years (no small feat), SIG Sauer finally usurped the Italian gunmaker to become the U.S. sidearm maker for the U.S. Armed Forces Modular Handgun System, finally issued in 2018 with its P320 model.
The drug war has been going on for so long, the inward, secret lives of narcotics traffickers are beginning to take on a life all of their own, separate from the national borders we know as their homes. They have their own rituals, coded languages, technology, and now, even a secret religion has sprung up around their lives.
It’s called the cult of Santa Muerte – “Holy Death” – and it’s more intense and deadly than anything that came before it.
A Santa Muerte follower announces its adherence.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon upped the ante on the Drug War in 2006 by taking down the highest-ranking members of certain cartels, violence in the country has increased exponentially. Since then some 45,000 people have died in the drug war. The level of violence and death without warning has spurred the spread of the Santa Muerte religion in Mexico and beyond. Santa Muerte, in turn, spurs the narcos to become more and more violent.
The worshippers of Santa Muerte are primarily disenfranchised, poor Mexicans who turn to the cartels as a means of employment but soon begin the same cycle of murder and torture as those who came before them. The activities they’re forced to conduct aren’t accepted by pure Catholicism, so they turn elsewhere for comfort.
And now, you can buy the figurines on Amazon.
Santa Muerte has developed as a belief system for over 50 years or more. According to the FBI, “The Santa Muerte cult could best be described as [following] a set of ritual practices offered on behalf of a supernatural personification of death…she is comparable in theology to supernatural beings or archangels.” Unlike Death or the Virgin of Guadalupe, as she is often represented, her scales don’t actually work, a reflection of her amoral nature. Since many narco foot soldiers will end up dying a brutal death, the appeal of worshipping a death-like figure is obvious. In the meantime, Santa Muerte advocates are enjoying the world’s earthly pleasures.
While the FBI stops short of calling the worship of Santa Muerte a full-blown religion, it does have its own belief system, as well as priests, temples, and shrines, along with all the rituals associated with religion – including ritual killings.
A statue of Santa Muerte in a practitioner’s home.
Ritualistic Santa Muerte killings are abundant in Mexico and South America amongst narco-traffickers, but the killings are now making their way into the United States, albeit, primarily close to the border cities already struck by violence that has become the signature of the War on Drugs, and only four have been confirmed as related to Santa Muerte.
Border agents and local police have been thoroughly trained on the ins and outs of the religion and its followers, but luckily very few have been seen on the U.S. side of the border.
Mallory and Stacy “Lux” Krauss are deeply proud of how far things have come since the riots of Stonewall, but they also know this country still has a lot more work to do.
“When I joined the Coast Guard, it was right after they repealed ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’. Honest to God, I went to the recruiter that very next day,” Lux shared.
She explained that prior to the repeal, she had wanted to join, but said she couldn’t be a part of something that wasn’t inclusive and accepting of all people.
When the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal was being discussed within congress, the Coast Guard and the Navy were the only two branches of service that didn’t initially oppose it.
(Courtesy of Military Spouse)
Mallory and Lux met at the 2013 pride parade in San Francisco, while they were both in California attending “A” schools for the United States Coast Guard. It was the first year that the military was allowing participation in pride events and both had been asked to walk in the parade.
“The pride parade is important because it’s a remembrance of Stonewall, but it’s also to say, ‘Hey, we are here and this is who we are’,” Lux shared.
Following that parade, they began dating. They returned to that same parade a year later. It was there that Mallory proposed to Lux. They married not long after that and eventually Mallory decided to leave the Coast Guard. They now have two sons, born in 2016 and 2020. Both boys were carried by Lux and Mallory is also listed on both of their birth certificates as their mother, something that only became legal shortly before their first son was born.
(Courtesy of Military Spouse)
Although things are moving forward, a lingering fear is always present for both of them.
“It still makes me nervous to go to any new command and share that I have a wife and children. You never know, you could have that one person who may be of the extreme who has the ability to ruin your career because you are gay,” said Lux.
She explained that even now when the Coast Guard puts something official out about pride or inclusivity on their social media, the comments can turn hateful fast and many of those commenting negatively are in the Coast Guard themselves.
That feeling of nervousness is ever present in everything they do and it’s something that many in the LGBTQ community are deeply familiar with. Despite multiple laws being passed to assure equality, there are still those in this country who are adamantly opposed to acknowledging and accepting them.
Once while standing in line at a candy story in Tennessee, a man behind them asked if they were gay. Although this was the first time they’d ever been rudely asked that question, they were very familiar with stares of others. Everywhere they go, especially in the southern states, they wonder if they’ll be accepted.
Now, they have to worry for their children too.
While getting one of their boys registered for a recent medical procedure, Mallory was filling out the paperwork when she was asked who the mom was. She explained that both she and Lux were his moms. The response was one they had always dreaded hearing, ‘but who is the real mom?’ This is a question that most straight couples will never have to face hearing.
Most will also never have to worry about legal custody being questioned either.
“There’s a grey area, if something were to happen to Lux and her parents wanted to take our children, they might legally be able to,” said Mallory.
She explained that although she is on their birth certificates, because she isn’t biologically related to them that risk is present unless she legally adopts them or specific laws are passed to protect them. Although Mallory said she knows her in-laws would never do that, it’s still something that no parent should ever have to think about.
Every time they move on Coast Guard orders, they wonder how the new doctor or school will react to their family. They both shared that so far, their experiences have been positive but they look forward to the day they don’t have to think about it. Although this country has come a long way since Stonewall, more work still has to be done. When asked what pride month means to them and what they want other military families to know, it was easy for them to respond.
They don’t want to be treated like unicorns.
“People need to realize, we are not any different from any other family,” said Mallory with a laugh. “We have our kids and we are worried about their future, there’s nothing special about us. We just want to be like everyone else,” Lux shared.
To learn more about the history of oppression and violence those in the LGBTQ community experienced and the inequality they still face today, click here.
Professions throughout the world all have their own unique terminology. Although the U.S. military is a unique organization, in this respect, it works in the same way. We’ve coined terms and created acronyms for just about anything you can imagine.
But what’s more interesting than the terms themselves is the original of each. While some terms have a clear origin, how others began is clouded in mystery. Military terms are sometimes seen as mildly derogatory, such as the term “boot,” or, in this case, “POG,” which means “Person Other than Grunt.”
So, where did the term “POG” come from? Well, we’re glad you asked.
The term comes from the word “pogue,” which is Gaelic for “kiss.”
It was started by disgruntled Navy sailors of Irish descent who served during the American Civil War. They were upset that others, would never leave shore, would get to stay home and get all the kisses from the ladies while they were out fighting.
Then, Marines caught wind of the term, adopted it, and began using it themselves to describe anyone who wasn’t involved in any type of combat. The term eventually found its way into the Army.
The Washington Post reports a nurse at the VA Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was allegedly intoxicated during a late-night emergency appendectomy.
A probable cause affidavit filed in the local court says Richard Pieri was drunk on call after a night at the nearby Mohegan Sun Casino. Pieri is charged with reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, and public drunkenness.
“Pieri admitted that he knew he was not supposed to be a part of a surgery while he was intoxicated,” the affidavit says. But he “claimed he had forgotten he was on call and did not want to have someone else come in.” The nurse carried his on-call pager to the casino, and whatdaya know, he got the call around 11:30 PM, after he consumed what he claimed were “four or five beers.”
The hospital’s security camera footage shows the nurse stumbling through the parking lot, almost falling at one point. Once in surgery, he had trouble logging into his computer. A physician’s assistant told investigators Pieri smelled like alcohol. He struggled through his duties and then assisted with the surgery.
Medical staff at the hospital allowed that “taking part in a surgery with impaired cognitive ability can create a substantial risk to the safety of the patient.” The surgery went well, but the unnamed patient in question later returned to the hospital with stomach issues.
Pieri still has a job at the Wilkes-Barre VA but has been relieved of his direct patient care duties.
Today, Bell is a company known for its UH-1 Iroquois and AH-1 Cobra helicopters, but Bell was once much more than a helicopter company. The corporation built front-line fighters during World War II and was also responsible for making America’s first jet fighter.
The P-59 Airacomet was never much more than a flying testbed. It had an armament that consisted of three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a single 37mm cannon — the latter being a common feature in Bell’s primary propeller-driven fighters, the P-39 Airacobra and the P-63 Kingcobra. The P-59 was also able to haul a fair load for air-to-ground ass-kicking, in the form of either two 1,000-pound bombs or eight 60-pound rockets.
The P-59, however, would make its greatest impact without ever firing a shot at the enemy.
By the early 1940s, both the Germans and the British were pursuing jet technology, having flown experimental jets before. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, General Henry Arnold saw England’s E-28/39 jet in 1941 and asked if the Americans could use the then-groundbreaking technology. The British gladly handed it over, and General Electric was given the task of building the engine.
While Bell is known for its helicopters today, during World War II, they built fighters.
Bell, which was located next to GE’s jet engine plant, then got the contract to build the jet fighter around the new engine. The process was kept very secret — a “black project.” The project was dubbed XP-59, a designation recycled from an older Bell design for a propeller-driven fighter that had a “pusher” arrangement. That design was modified to carry two J31 turbojet engines.
In addition to the three .50-caliber machine guns and the 37mm cannon, the Airacomet carried eight 60-pound rockets or two 1,000-pound bombs.
The Airacomet never made it to the front lines. Despite being technologically advanced, it just didn’t have the performance needed to join the fight. The two jets were heavy and while it had a top speed of 413 miles per hour, its range was very short. On internal fuel alone, the P-59 only could go 240 miles. External tanks more than doubled its range (carrying it up to 520 miles), but a P-51 Mustang could go as far as 2,300 miles.
The pilots who flew the P-59 didn’t see combat, but did learn lessons that paid off for pilots of more advanced jets down the road.
The P-59, despite never seeing combat, was very valuable for the United States. It taught pilots how to fly jets — and this experience that would pay off big time when more practical aircraft emerged for the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
Learn more about this jet-powered pioneer the video below!
There are things common to the military no matter what branch a service-member joins, and they often extend outside the front gate of the installation. We all have a type, right?
Whether in the Air Force or the Army, troops can count on regulations sometimes making no sense, or running into the same types of people during their daily routine. But outside of bases — which are often a major driver of the local economy — there are archetypes that exist just about everywhere. Here they are.
1. The civilian girl at the bar who knows military rank structure way too well.
You’re at the local watering hole kicking back a few beers with your friends, and you see a pretty girl at the other end of the bar. So you get up, walk over, and introduce yourself. “Oh, are you a soldier?” she asks, as if the haircut and demeanor doesn’t give it away. “What rank are you?”
Just run away. Now.
2. The retired sergeant major or chief who corrects you at the gas station.
Troops are basically free and clear of the military once they get past the gate of a base outside of a big populated area like Camp Pendleton (Orange County-San Diego, Calif.) or Fort Jackson (Columbia, S.C.), but that isn’t always the case in some other posts. At places like Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville, N.C.) or Minot Air Force Base (Minot, N.D.), the base is arguably one of the main drivers of the local economy, and many people are connected to it in some way.
And for some military retirees especially, sticking close to their old base gives them the opportunity to stay connected to their service — by telling you how terrible your haircut is at the local gas station.
3. The guy at the tattoo parlor who has put the same lame tattoo on everyone since Vietnam.
The town surrounding a military base is pretty much guaranteed to have a good assortment of tattoo parlors. But the tattoo parlors don’t really have an assortment of different designs. Marine bases can expect “USMC” in every possible font, while sailors will see plenty of anchors to choose from on the wall. And the artist has been tattoing the same designs for so long, he or she can probably do it in their sleep.
4. The shady used car dealer who thinks E-1 and up can easily afford a brand new 2015 Ford Mustang at 37% interest.
The used car dealer is guaranteed to be a stone’s throw away from the base gate, and it usually has signs that read “E-1 and Up!” along with “We Support our Troops!” Most of the time, the way they support the troops is by screwing them out of their hard-earned money with insanely lopsided deals.
“Oh hey, I’m a former Marine too, so I’ll definitely hook you up, brother,” is probably a red flag from the salesman. Another red flag is your financing statement showing an interest rate consisting of more than one number. Go somewhere else, so you don’t end up paying $100,000 over a period of six years for a Ford Taurus.
5. The guy at the Pawn Shop selling gear that suspiciously went missing from the back of your car last week. We don’t like this type.
You may have heard the phrase “gear adrift, gear a gift.” As it turns out, that gear may sometimes end up as a gift being sold at the local pawn shop. Or on eBay.
6. The police officer who used to be in the military but isn’t cutting you any slack on this speeding ticket.
You may be able to pull the military veteran card in small town U.S.A. to help you get out of a ticket, but outside of a major military installation — where the cops are pretty much pulling over troops all day long — that probably isn’t a good strategy.
Especially when you run into a cop who used to be in your shoes a couple years ago. Of course, you could always just, you know, slow down.
What other types of people or places do you always see outside the base? Leave us a comment.
Much of the world knows the Grenadier Guards from their roles as formal guards in London and at Windsor Castle. Their distinctive ceremonial uniforms are a symbol of the British Crown. They are also one of the world’s best light infantry units who joined the British Army in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while they left their distinctive bearskin hats at home, they did bring many traditions to desert wars with them.
“Make way for the Queen’s Guard.”
One of those traditions surrounds saying the word “yes.” Apparently, members of the Grenadier Guards find the affirmative to be redundant. According to one guardsman in a 1989 BBC story called the “Weird and Wonderful Traditions of the Grenadier Guards,” saying yes is redundant as a guardsman always obeys his orders. The only alternative would be saying “no,” something a guardsman would never do.
So in the Grenadier Guards, they simply respond to direct orders with “sir.”
The Grenadiers’ unquestioned obedience doesn’t limit their ability to communicate. According to a ranking Guardsman of the time, they can still pass different meanings through the word using different tones and inflections. If you’re given a bad assignment, you just say “sir.” It doesn’t mean you’re happy about it, but you accept it. If you’re told something you simply just can’t believe, you might say “sirrrrrr?” Or maybe you disagree with it entirely and don’t like it one bit.
A monotone “sir” is an acceptable response. Tune in to the above video at around 6:15 to hear the Guards tell it.