Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

The Russian military is getting ready for what is said to be an “unprecedented” military exercise, but as thousands of men and machines gather in Russia’s east, leaders in Moscow may be increasingly concerned about what’s going on in the West.

Early August 2018, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the upcoming Vostok-2018, or East-2018, exercises “the largest preparatory action for the armed forces since Zapad-81,” referring to a Soviet military exercise in 1981 involving about 100,000 to 150,000 troops, according to a CIA estimate at the time.


Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, that the Vostok-2018 exercise, scheduled for Sept. 11-15, 2018, will have some similarities to Zapad-81 but involve vastly more personnel.

“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills but in other ways they are, perhaps, even larger,” Shoigu said, according to Russian state-owned media outlet Tass.

“Over 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 servicemen at almost all the training ranges of the Central and Eastern Military Districts and, naturally, the Pacific and Northern Fleets and the Airborne Force will be fully employed.”

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Russian troops participating in Zapad-2017.

(Russian Ministry of Defense)

The Russian military has already begun evaluating its forces’ combat readiness and logistical support with “snap inspections” that involve special drills and are done under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Just imagine that 36,000 pieces of military hardware are simultaneously in motion: these are tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and all this is, naturally, checked in conditions close to a combat environment,” Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, according to Tass.

Russia has invited military attaches from NATO countries to observe the upcoming exercises — an offer that a NATO spokesman told Reuters was under consideration.

Russia conducted another large-scale exercise, Zapad-17, or West-17, in September 2017. About 70,000 personnel took part in that — though only about 13,000 of them were part of the main event that took place in Belarus and western Russia. (The number of troops involved became a point of contention between Russia and NATO.)

Russian forces will not be the only ones taking part this time around. Chinese and Mongolian units will also take part, with Beijing reportedly sending more than 3,000 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 pieces of other military hardware.

Chinese participation in Russian military exercises “speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Aug, 28, 2018, according to Tass.

‘It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time’

Peskov was asked if the expense of the Vostok-18 exercise was necessary at a time when Russia’s economy is struggling and demands for more social spending are rising.

“The social security network and the pension system are a constant element of state policy and a very important component,” Peskov responded, according to Tass. “But the country’s defense capability in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly for our country, is justified, needed and has no alternative.”

Russia has consistently condemned Western military activity and NATO maneuvers as provocative, but Peskov’s reply may hint at a growing unease in Moscow, which is still uncertain about President Donald Trump as it watches the defense alliance deploy an array of units to its eastern flank.

Trump has signaled a conciliatory stance toward Russia and hostility toward NATO, but those attitudes haven’t translated significantly into US or NATO policy.

“We don’t like the picture we are seeing,” Vladimir Frolov, an independent political analyst in Moscow, told Defense News.

“NATO is getting serious about its combat capabilities and readiness levels. Trump may trash NATO and his European allies,” he said, “but it is the capabilities that matter, and those have been growing under Trump.”

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, July 16, 2018.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

NATO members have been boosting their defense spending and working to build military readiness — moves stoked recently by the combination of uncertainty about Trump and concern about assertive Russian action, like the incursion in Ukraine in 2014.

NATO troops, including US forces, are practicing tactics that have been little used since the Cold War. A number of former Soviet republics have embraced the West. NATO units have forward deployed to the alliance’s eastern flank, and Poland has even offered to pay to host a permanent US military presence.

Some European countries are also debating augmenting their own militaries and defense sectors. Germany, long averse to a large military footprint, is looking to recruit more troops, and some there have restarted debate about whether Berlin should seek its own nuclear-weapons capability.

Moscow has long used confrontation with the West to bolster its domestic political standing, and many leaders in the West have come to identify Russia as a main geopolitical foe — a dynamic that is likely to perpetuate tensions.

Early 2018 Russian officials called military exercises involving NATO and Ukrainian personnel “an attempt to once again provoke tension in southeastern Ukraine and in the entire Black Sea region” and said “countries … constantly accusing Russia of threatening regional stability shall be held responsible for possible negative consequences.”

NATO spokesman Dylan White told Reuters that countries have a right to conduct military exercises, “but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner.”

“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” White added. “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

This video answers the question of the casualty radius of Mattis’ knife hand

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is known for many things, including outstanding leadership, delivering motivational quotes and demonstrating perfectly executed knife hands.


Mattis entered in the Marine Corps in 1969 and attended Central Washington University as part of the ROTC program.

Working his way up the ranks, Mattis oversaw a Marine recruiting station in Portland, led the historic 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, held the position of commander of the United States Central Command since 2010, and served under the Trump administration as the 26th Secretary of Defense until 2019.

Having served nearly his entire 41-year military journey in a position of leadership, he’s had to answer all sorts of tough questions.

Check out the Marine Corps‘ video as the legend himself answers the most important question of his career. What’s the kill radius of his knife-hand?

(United States Marine Corps, YouTube)
Articles

4 reasons why Maverick would be a sh*tty Top Gun instructor

It’s just about here – the sequel aviation and military buffs have been patiently waiting for.


“Top Gun: Maverick” was supposed to fly onto the big screen in July but was pushed back to December due to COVID-19. The sequel with Tom Cruise returning in the starring role as hotshot naval aviator LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a graduate of the US Navy’s elite TOPGUN school and a career fighter pilot flying the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

Though not a whole lot of information about the new movie has been released just yet, it’s generally understood that Maverick will be an instructor or something similar, teaching the next generation of fighter pilots how to push themselves and their aircraft to the limit.

While a lot has changed in the three decades since Maverick first set foot on TOPGUN’s campus at NAS Miramar (now a Marine Corps base), one thing remains absolutely certain — Maverick really shouldn’t be anywhere near the school, especially as an instructor.

From his downright reckless flying to his cavalier attitude, this aviator is no example for new TOPGUN candidates, and he definitely shouldn’t be in a position to instruct them.

Here are four reasons why Maverick might actually be the worst possible choice to be a TOPGUN instructor in the sequel:

1. He wasn’t even the best pilot at Top Gun!

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
Mav barely even showed up at his graduation from Top Gun, so how on God’s Green Earth could he one day become an instructor? (Photo from Top Gun YouTube screengrab)

Far from it.

In fact, Maverick didn’t even come close to winning the top graduate award at the end of the program, losing his edge and competitiveness after his radar intercept officer, Lt. JG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, died during a training exercise gone wrong.

In convincing him to return to the program, “Viper” — TOPGUN’s head honcho in the movie — lets the depressed soon-to-be washout know that he has enough points to graduate with the rest of his class… but certainly not enough to achieve the award for best pilot.

Instead, it’s Maverick’s classmate and fierce rival, Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazanski who took the plaque for first place (and gains the option to return to TOPGUN as an instructor). If anything, being that the program is designed to mature the most capable of all Navy fighter pilots currently serving, shouldn’t they only learn from the best?

2. He’s definitely not a team player

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
“You never, never leave your wingman.” – Lt. Cmdr. Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Photo Top Gun Youtube screengrab)

This is alarmingly evident from the very beginning of the movie, when the young pilot and his backseater decide to leave a fellow Tomcat behind and completely exposed to do a little showboating.

Instead of covering his wingman, Maverick pulls his F-14 over an enemy MiG-28 for Goose to take vanity images with a Polaroid camera. Meanwhile, “Cougar” and “Merlin” — the two aircrew of the other F-14 — are mercilessly hounded by another MiG fighter, causing Cougar to lose his edge and turn in his wings after nearly crashing his jet.

Over at Miramar, Maverick once again draws the ire of his fellow classmates by leaving them behind during training exercises, choosing instead to selfishly pursue Viper while allowing his wingmen to take a hit.

3. He’s too reckless and narcissistic

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Every time Maverick goes up, he flies dangerously.

It’s a chronic problem and he doesn’t know how to solve it. From buzzing control towers to his inverted encounter with the MiG-28 to his training sorties at TOPGUN, Maverick just doesn’t know how to turn off his recklessness.

At times, he’s even been known to disobey direct orders from commanding officers. His superiors call him out on it repeatedly, from his time in the fleet aboard the USS Enterprise to his antics at TOPGUN, darting below the “hard deck” to get a radar lock on one of his instructors.

Perhaps this is a result of his inherent narcissism… a trait unbecoming of a potential TOPGUN instructor pilot. The young naval aviator is frankly way too self-absorbed to be an instructor given his penchant for doing things that would ultimately give himself the glory.

4. He’s way too old to be an instructor anyways

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
The Navy retired the F-14 Tomcat, made famous by Top Gun, 11 years ago (Photo Top Gun)

Let’s do the math here — “Top Gun” was released in 1986, over 3 decades ago. By the time the sequel makes its appearance on the silver screen, 34 years will have elapsed since Maverick’s stint at the former NAS Miramar. Let’s add another four years to that, since Maverick was a lieutenant back when he first entered the TOPGUN program… which brings us to a grand total of 37 years.

The vast majority of military officers don’t even have careers that long! Given Maverick’s penchant for angering people in authority over him, it’s unlikely that he’d still be in the Navy, though it’s also possible that he got relegated to a desk job, ending his flying career, where he might remain today.

With that being said, fighter pilots also have a “shelf life.” There’s only so much wear and tear that their bodies can take from the physical and mental stress of flying high-performance fighter aircraft, and most tend to either leave the cockpit due to advancement, or out of a personal choice to accept a less-strenuous job elsewhere (within or outside the service) within 15-20 years.

OF COURSE we’re going to see the new “Top Gun” when it comes out. But we’ll be looking to make sure that if Maverick is indeed an instructor, he’s matured from his previously reckless ways.

Articles

Cocaine bust highlights growing Air Force role in Southern hemisphere

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.


The line of cocaine the Air Force and Joint Interagency Task Force-South seized last month in the Caribbean would stretch “from the Pentagon to the center of Philadelphia.”

The Air Force’s top civilian shared that detail with reporters Wednesday when describing how the service is working harder to train pilots in the Southern hemisphere while aiding the global anti-drug war.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service is looking for ways to use more assets in the Southern Command region that would be “of training benefit to our forces, but also contributing to counter drug and counter transnational crime commission.”

“The idea of all of this was to see if we could get more of a double ‘bang for your buck,’ ” James said at a Pentagon briefing.

And during a five-day training operation, they did.

Led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, commander of the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, the service and the Key West, Florida-based task force seized 6,100 kilograms (13,448 pounds) of cocaine between Aug. 22-26, James said.

The large-scale air operation in the Caribbean included a number of U.S. aircraft, including HC-130s, DH-8s, B-1Bs, B-52s, AWACS, JSTARS, Global Hawks, KC-135s and KC-10s, James said. Space and cyber assets “were also brought into the mix,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

The use of airpower as well as the other partners in the interagency effort led to the seizure of as much as $500 million worth of the cocaine and the arrest of 17 drug traffickers by appropriate authorities, James said.

In March, a B-1B Lancer flew a low pass over a drug smuggling boat in the Caribbean Sea, prompting those onboard to dump 500 kilos of cocaine into the deep blue.

The secretary visited command units in April to discuss the potential for more training operations in Latin America.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How regrowing limbs could be the future of military medicine

For some animals, such as salamanders, regrowing a missing limb is a common healing process. But what if people could do the same? Could the future of treating amputations include warfighters regrowing their own muscle, bone, and nerve tissues?


“We’re not quite there yet,” said Army Lt. Col. David Saunders, extremity repair product manager for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Fort Detrick, Maryland. “What we’re trying to do is develop a toolkit for our trauma and reconstructive surgeons out of various regenerative medicine products as they emerge to improve long-term outcomes in function and form of injured extremities.”

Saunders was part of a session focusing on the research being done on extremity regeneration, part of a larger theme of regenerative medicine at the Military Health System Research Symposium. Saunders said while there’s been amazing progress in the areas of using synthetic grafts to start the regrowth of muscle, nerve, vascular, and connective tissues, it’s still not the same as the real thing. “We would like it to be as restorative as possible, resist infection … and be durable,” he said. “This is going to be implanted in young people who may go on to live another 60 to 70 years.”

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
The Army is researching regrowth of lost limbs, similar to how salamanders regrow theirs. (Image Pexels)

One researcher is using fillers to bridge the gap in damaged bones, hoping to figuratively bridge the gap between current regenerative techniques and the ideal: people regrowing lost limbs. Stephanie Shiels with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, talked about her research to develop a synthetic bone gap filler that heals bones and reduces infection by infusing those grafts with a variety of anti-microbials.

“We know that it reduces infection,” said Shiels. “Other things to consider include adding a bulking agent … to help regenerate bone.”

Other research focuses on regrowing muscle lost in traumatic injuries, as well as recovering nerves, or at least preserving them, for future use. But besides treating those deep tissue wounds, there’s something a bit more on the surface that can impact warfighters: skin. The skin is known for its regenerative properties. Research is being conducted to help it do that job better and recover scar tissue.

Jason Brant with the University of Florida has turned to a mouse to help the military reduce scarring of injured warfighters. He said the African spiny mouse has evolved a capability to lose large parts of its skin when a predator tries to grab it, allowing the mouse to escape and live to recover. The mouse is able to recover scar-free in a relatively short amount of time, which is remarkable considering the amount and depth of tissue lost. Brant wants to know how the mouse is able to do that.

“Warfighters and civilians alike suffer large surface [cuts] and burns, and these result in medically and cosmetically problematic scars,” said Brant. “The impacts of these scars … are really staggering. The ability to develop effective therapies will have an enormous impact not only on the health care system but on the individuals as well.”

Also Read: 3-D printing limbs for amputees is a thing now

He believes a certain protein in the mouse could be the key, but he’s still trying to figure out how it could apply to humans.

Another way to reduce scarring involves the initial treating of wounds. Army Maj. Samuel Tahk, a research fellow with the Uniformed Services Health Consortium, passed around to attendees samples of biocompatible sponges he’s investigating for their ability to promote skin healing, and thus, reduce scarring.

“It provides a scaffold to start regenerative growth,” said Tahk. “This could simplify patient care and also reduce costs.”

While the field of regenerating body parts is still new, Saunders believes it will be the future of wounded warrior care.

“Extremity wounds are increasingly survivable due to the implementation of body armor and damage control surgeries,” he said. “[There are] many wonderful things emerging in the field of regenerative medicine to restore form and function to our wounded warfighters.”

popular

Uh-oh: Waffle House declares ‘Index Red’

For years, the Waffle House index has been an actual (albeit informal) metric the Federal Emergency Management Agency has used to gauge the effect of a storm and the scale of federal assistance that will be required in its aftermath.

Now, the popular restaurant chain has announced on Facebook that in the wake of social distancing and flattening the curve, they are at “Index Red.”


www.facebook.com

The Waffle House index became “a thing” under former FEMA director Craig Fugate, who used the popular southern restaurant’s ability to withstand storms as a bar for how communities would fare and recover. In a FEMA blogpost at the time, the Agency explained:

If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well-prepared for disasters… it’s rare for the index to hit red.

“As Craig often says, the Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community. The success of the private sector in preparing for and weathering disasters is essential to a community’s ability to recover in the long run.”

Waffle House CEO explains origin of FEMA’s ‘Waffle House Index’

www.youtube.com

Waffle House CEO explains origin of FEMA’s ‘Waffle House Index’

At WATM, we’ve seen this index in action firsthand. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, I was deployed with FEMA to Baton Rouge to work in logistics at the Joint Field Office. With a shortage of hotel rooms for emergency relief workers, we slept on a tour bus donated by country star Shania Twain, that was parked in the parking lot of the penitentiary. While the racks on the bus were fine for sleeping, you can imagine it wasn’t built to withstand any sort of winds. Consequently, several weeks later when Hurricane Rita rolled through, our team rode that storm out, at, you guessed it: a Waffle House.

Now, more than three times the number of Waffle Houses are closed due to COVID-19 than were during Katrina.

It’s truly an unprecedented time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These airmen secured the skies during the 9/11 attacks

As the towers fell and the nation reeled on Sept. 11, 2001, a team of New York Air National Guardsmen at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NADS) in rural Rome, New York were tasked with searching for missing plans and scrambling fighters in response to the attacks.

Since renamed the Eastern Air Defense Sector, Air Guardsmen there were at the center of the military’s air response on that day. On duty for a NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, they now have a unique view on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, thanks to their roles in the response.


New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell was a 31-year-old tech sergeant taking part in Exercise Vigilant Guardian when 9/11 occurred. He was the first military person to learn about the hijackings after taking the initial call from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston center. Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree was a 23-year-old senior airman working as an identification technician. Vigilant Guardian was her first major NORAD exercise.

Like every other American, Powell and Rountree remember that day vividly. Here are eight things they recall about the day that you might not know.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

After Sept. 11, 2001, this is what the NEADS operation floor looked like. Above the Q-93 (the large green radar scope) is the NORAD contingency suite that was installed immediately after 9/11 to provide radar data of the entire country.

(Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree, Eastern Air Defense Sector)

It was not a drill

It took some time for NEADS to realize 9/11 was a real-world scenario and not part of the exercise. Once they did, there was even more confusion trying to find the missing planes, which always seemed to be a step ahead of them.

“We were treating all the information we got as real-time, not understanding that it was coming to us late,” said Rountree, who basically became a liaison between the FAA and the military for the rest of that day.

“We were trying to figure out departure destination, how many people were on board, how big the aircraft actually was, and factoring all of that stuff in. That way the [F-15 and F-16] fighters, when they got airborne, would know that they had the right plane in sight,” she said.

“I stayed on the phone for 12-14 hours, just calling all the bases and asking how quick the fighters could get armed, get airborne, and if they could go to a certain location,” Powell said.

There was little time between FAA call and the first crash

Just 10 minutes elapsed between the time Powell took the first call to NEADS about the hijackings to when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the North Tower — not enough time to get fighters into the air.

According to the 9/11 Commission’s report, the call from the FAA’s Boston center came into NEADS at 8:37 a.m.

“8:46 is when I scrambled the first fighters [from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts], and then 8:53 they were airborne,” Powell said.

But it was too late to help American 11, which hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:47 a.m.

There were several more reports of hijackings over the day

By the time the day was over, Rountree said there were probably 19 or 20 planes that she and the other ID techs had investigating as possible hijackings. Only the initial four — American 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93 — were the real deal.

At one point, there were reports that American 11 was still airborne. Air traffic controllers likely confused it with American 77, which was somewhere over Washington, D.C. air-space.

Rountree said she tried to contact the FAA’s Washington Center to get a position on it, while Langley Air Force Base fighters were trying to get to the capital.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell, a tech sergeant on 9/11, was asked to play himself in the Paul Greengrass film “United 93” about the passengers who kept the fourth hijacked plane from reaching its destination in Washington, D.C. Powell, pictured here in a screen grab from the film, said he believed the movie was as spot-on as you could get, as far as what happened at NEADS was concerned.

“It was probably only a couple of minutes, but to me, it seemed like a lifetime. Then we got the reports that the plane hit the Pentagon,” Rountree remembered. “I was actively trying to find that plane, and I felt that we may have had some time. We didn’t.”

Fighter pilots were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice

The fighters were meant only to shadow potentially hijacked planes, but Rountree said there was discussion of those pilots making the ultimate sacrifice.

“In case their weapons were out, and if we would have had to use force, they were discussing whether or not those guys would have to go kamikaze,” she said, meaning some pilots were considering risking their own lives by using their planes to stop hijacked jetliners. “It was scary, when you thought about the possibility of them having to do that.”

There was a moment of hope for Flight 93

While all of the crashes were shocking, Rountree said that, for her, United 93 was the saddest. They had been trying to find the plane on radar and had called the FAA to get an updated position.

“They said, ‘It’s down,’ and we were thinking it landed,” Rountree remembered. But when they asked for landing confirmation, the info was clarified — it crashed. “For us, you had that glimmer of hope, and then… .”

NEADS was evacuated September 12

The day after 9/11, NEADS was evacuated because there was an unknown plane up at the time, and no one was supposed to be airborne.

“There were fighters coming back from air patrol over NYC … so our commander had them go supersonic over to where we were so they could figure out what it was. They thought it was heading toward us,” Rountree said.

It turned out to be a harmless floatplane, and it was forced to land.

9/11 changed the role of the air defense sectors

“Back then, the primary focus was that we were looking out at people coming to attack us from the outside,” Powell said. “We weren’t really focused on the inside.”

“Nobody thought that somebody would go ahead and utilize planes that were in the U.S. to do something, so our radar coverage was indicative of that,” Rountree explained. “Now, our coverage has definitely increased. It’s night and day versus then.”

The sector now has new and evolving technology.

“Our computer systems are bigger and better. … You should see all of the radars that are now hooked up. Everything the FAA sees, we see. We are much more actively involved in the identification of all aircraft in the United States,” Powell said.

Before 9/11, Rountree said they couldn’t always get in touch with critical personnel at the FAA centers. Now they can.

“We really didn’t have to talk to the various Air Traffic Control Center supervisors. Now, we have instant lines with everybody,” she said.

The military has been monitoring the skies over the U.S. ever since.

“A lot of people didn’t even realize that we were probably there, or what we even do, which could be a good thing,” Powell said. “It reinforces the idea that somebody’s always watching you, especially in the sky. The FAA’s there — that is their airspace — but the military is, too.”

Never Forget.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Call of Duty has a nonprofit that helps veterans in a big way

Call of Duty is one of the biggest first-person shooter franchises in the world. Starting with World War II scenarios, this video game franchise has honored those who fought for freedom and against evil-doers for over a decade.


What you may not have known is that there is also a Call of Duty Endowment, which helps to support non-profits that are effective at helping the real-life heroes who have served make the transition from military life to civilian life. Yesterday, that endowment gave three such charities its Seal of Distinction, and announced plans to expand its recognition to charities in the United Kingdom.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard and Founder/Co-Chairman of the Call of Duty Endowment. (Call of Duty Endowment photo)

The first charity recognized by the Endowment was Goodwill Southern California. In 2016, they placed 752 veterans in civilian jobs at a cost of $1,022 per placement, while still providing job placement, work experience, education, and training.

Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region was also honored by the Endowment for their Military and Veteran Services team’s ability to place 208 veterans into jobs at a cost of $1,076 per placement. This charity provides “individualized, holistic plans to help each participant succeed with the goal of achieving career placement, retention, and long-term financial education and stability.”

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
(Image of Call of Duty Modern Warfare remastered. Video Game developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision)

The third charity honored was Houston-based NextOp, Inc. Since its founding in March 2015, it has placed over 1,000 vets at a cost of $1,599 per placement. This charity specializes in placing “middle-enlisted military leaders” into industrial careers in the Houston region.

The charities supported by the Call of Duty Endowment have a strong record of delivering results. According to the endowment’s web site, the average cost per placement is less than $619, while the federal government spends almost $3,100. The average salary for the vets placed by charities supported by the endowment is $57,000, compared to just over $30,000 for those placed via government programs. The endowment has placed over 37,000 veterans into jobs since 2009.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Navy SEAL went from Nigerian prince to the Bronx to hero

Sitting across the table from Remi Adeleke is a pretty powerful experience. This is a man who exudes charisma and excellence.

You’d never know that he was born into African royalty, lost his father and everything his family owned, relocated to the Bronx, got caught up in illegal and dangerous activities, and found his way out not just in the military but as a United States Navy SEAL — one of the most elite military programs in the world.

Now, he gives back, helping at-risk youths the same way he was once helped: by believing in them.


Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

“If you’re not uncomfortable when you’re training, you’re not training.”

(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)

Unsung Hero

In his new book Transformed, Adeleke details his unlikely journey where he is both unflinching while admitting his mistakes and unsparing while reflecting on the people who helped him. As we spoke, he observed that many of the critical guides in his life were women — starting with his mother and his military recruiter.

In his book he details how Petty Officer Tiana Reyes managed to help a poor kid from the Bronx — with a record and an outstanding warrant for his arrest — qualify for the Navy SEALs. I don’t mean to spoil one of my favorite moments, but Reyes personally accompanied Adeleke to multiple court hearings to advocate for him.

“She knew that no one would take a chance on a kid from the Bronx,” he told me when I asked why she did it. It turned out that Reyes was from the Bronx, too, and she knew the obstacles facing families there. He promised her that he wouldn’t let her down and that promise guided him through boot camp, into BUD/S, and beyond.

The assistance she gave him would also inspire him to return to inner cities to help others.

“Strategic mentorship is how we can improve inner city environments. If military veterans, doctors, or successful actors came to the inner cities to mentor children, we could change their lives,” he said when I asked how we can make a difference for at risk youths.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Behind-the-scenes on ‘Transformers: The Last Knight.’

(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)

Taking on a broken system — one kid at a time

“Honor, courage, and commitment were instilled into me by the Navy, as well as excellence. In SEAL training, just meeting the standard wasn’t enough. Now, my character is built on excellence: keeping my word, being on time, and pushing myself.” After his military career, Adeleke pursued writing, speaking, and acting, notably including a role in Transformers: The Last Knight.

He has climbed high but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“If make a mistake as a youth, you get marked,” he noted, adding that African American males who grow up in single-parent households are nine times more likely to drop out of high school and twenty times more likely to end up in prison than any other demographic. This becomes a cycle for these families — but it doesn’t have to be.

Now, the message he gives to inner-city youths is that they can be whatever they want to be — if they do the work. He tells them his own story, sharing the deficiencies he had to overcome. “You have to do the extra hard work. You have to. And if you do that, you really can be anything you want to become.”

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BxQf9p-HkTt/ expand=1]Remi Adeleke on Instagram: ““M-J, Him J, Fade-away, Perfect.” All my #hiphop heads know where that line is from. . My @cityhopenow boys challenged your boy to a 3 on…”

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“Everything that happens in our lives leads us to where we are today.”

He began with the drive to help and he hasn’t stopped.

“Ten years ago, I was living in San Diego and I decided to go find kids who needed help. I went to ministries and non-profits and asked if there were kids who needed to hear my message.” Now, Adeleke partners with non-profits like La Mesa City Hope, continuing to serve after his service.

His book details his incredible journey, but ultimately, it is about overcoming the odds — any odds, for anyone, anywhere. He has embodied that message and now he encourages others to do the same.

Transformed comes out on May 14, 2019, and is now available for pre-order.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprisingly long history of the flamethrower

One of the most intimidating standard-issue weapon fielded to troops is, without a doubt, the flamethrower. Yes, bullets are intimidating, but nothing shocks and terrifies the primitive side of our human brains like a wave of fire surging toward you.


In contemporary warfare, the use of flamethrowers has tapered off in favor of more accurate weapons. Contrary to popular belief, they are not outlawed by the Geneva Convention — they just can’t be used anywhere near civilians. The most notable modern example of a flamethrower being used against another person was in 2014, when it was used as an execution tool by North Korea against its Deputy Minister of Public Safety.

The flamethrower, as we know it, was first created by Germany in 1901 and was known as the flammenwerfer. The flamethrower would find immense popularity among troops in the trenches of WWI, the all-out war of WWII, and the forests and jungles of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
Only problem is there’s still no place to attach a bayonet.
(Courtesy of the National Archive)

However, the ancestor of what we call the “flamethrower” today got its start early in history with the Byzantine Empire. In 672, Crusader navies would spew a napalm-like substance, called “Greek Fire,” on their enemies. The actual composition of Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret that is now lost to time, but scholars generally agree that pine resin was used to make it sticky.

As technology evolved, Greek Fire was then launched out through a hand siphon that a troop could carry into battle. This was called a “cheirosiphon.” Crusaders would station a hand siphon atop a ladder or wall and spray the Greek Fire down, raining chaos onto their enemy.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO
Who needs a long bow when you have a mother f*cking flamethrower?
(Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1605)

In the East, China invented their own version in 919, during a time known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Pen Huo Qi worked nearly identically to the Crusaders’ flamethower, but it was more elaborate and was made to resemble metal dragons breathing fire.

Outside of the Crusaders, Vikings may have also created their own version of Greek Fire in 1041 (albeit with a different name) after they laid siege on Constantinople. The Saga of Yngvar the Traveler tells the story of a man (Ingvar) as he learns the art of flame-throwing — because apparently regular vikings weren’t terrifying enough.

When guns and gunpowder became the dominant weapon on the battlefield, the comparatively short range of flamethrowers made it less appealing — but it wasn’t ever forgotten. Threats of using Greek Fire even persisted through the American Civil War.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This airborne weapon makes the A-10’s gun look like a cute little pop gun

While we love the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger on the A-10 for the BRRRRRT it brings, we also know that it’s not exactly the biggest gun to ever take to the skies. In fact, several planes have packed bigger guns, like the XA-38 Grizzly armed with 75mm firepower or some versions of the B-25 Mitchell, which pack .50-caliber machine guns.


One of the biggest guns to ever be attached to a plane is the 105mm howitzer on the AC-130 Spectre gunship. Yeah, Warthog fans, I’ll say it: the AC-130’s biggest gun makes the GAU-8 look like a cute little pop gun. Here’s the scoop on this cannon that can really make life a living hell for bad guys on the ground.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

The AC-130U packs two guns bigger than the A-10’s GAU-8 30mm Gatling gun, including a M102 howitzer!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

This gun is officially known as the M102 howitzer. It’s been around since 1964, when it was acquired by the Army for airborne and light infantry units, replacing the World War II-era M101 howitzer. The M102 has a top range of roughly nine and a third miles and can fire ten rounds per minute in a rapid-fire mode before settling down to a tamer three rounds per minute.

While the lightweight M119 has replaced the M102 in many of America’s light units since it entered service in 1989, the M102 is still active aboard the AC-130. The howitzer has been on AC-130s since 1971.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

The M102 saw action in the Vietnam War, but has hung long enough to server during Operation Iraqi Freedom!

(US Army)

The M102 has seen action on the ground in Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While many of these howitzers will never see active service on the ground again, many have a long life ahead on AC-130 gunships, both the AC-130U and the AC-130J. You can see a video of the M102 being tested in its ground-based mode by the Army in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsWlsdOMcMs

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY MOVIES

Here’s what the ‘Spider-Man’ end-credits mean for future Marvel movies

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” is in theaters. And if you head out to see it, make sure you stay until the very end.

There are two must-watch end-credits scenes that will have fans talking long after the movie is over. The last one will change the way you see the entire movie.

If you left the theater early, or were confused at all, INSIDER has you covered.


The first end-credits scene

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

MJ and Peter Parker are officially a couple.

(Sony Pictures)

What happens

The scene picks up right where the movie ended with MJ and Peter Parker across the street from Madison Square Garden in New York City after the two flew through the city skies.

“Are you OK?” asks Peter Parker.

“Yeah, I’m never doing that again,” MJ tells Parker.

Peter’s about to head off when a breaking news report comes on a screen on the side of Madison Square Garden. The newsman says he has “disturbing revelations” about last week’s attack in London.

“An anonymous source provided this video,” says the newsman. “It shows Quentin Beck aka Mysterio moments before his death.”

The news stream then cuts to Mysterio looking right into the camera saying that he managed to send the Elementals back through an inter-dimensional rip in time and space, but he’s not confident he’s going to make it.

“Spider-Man attacked me for some reason,” says Beck. “He has an army of weaponized drones. Stark technology. He said he’s going to be the next Iron Man.”

The video then cuts to footage of Spider-Man speaking with his Stark technology glasses, E.D.I.T.H.

“Are you sure you want to commence the drone attack? There will be significant casualties,” says E.D.I.T.H. The Stark glasses stand for “Even Dead, I’m the hero.”

Spider-Man is then heard saying he doesn’t care.

“Execute them all,” Spider-Man appears to say.

The newsman says the video was released on the “controversial news website” theDailyBugle.net.

J.K. Simmons then appears on screen reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson, the head of the fictional New York City tabloid.

“There you have it, folks. Conclusive proof that Spider-Man was responsible for the brutal murder of Mysterio, an inter-dimensional warrior who gave his life to protect our planet and who, will no doubt, go down in history as the greatest superhero of all time,” says Jameson.

Jameson’s not done yet. He then shows another clip of Mysterio.

“Spider-Man’s real name is Peter Parker,” he says.

Photos of Parker show up on the big screen. Parker, shocked, yells out, “What the —?”

The scene cuts to black.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson in “Spider-Man.”

(Columbia Pictures)

The return of J. Jonah Jameson!

None other than J.K. Simmons, who played the same character in the original “Spider-Man” trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, appears at the film’s end.

In the original trilogy, which ran from 2002 until 2007, Jameson plays a newspaperman who is constantly demanding photos of the webslinger. Jameson thinks Spider-Man is a menace and is set on exposing the vigilante in The Daily Bugle.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jameson has left the newspaper business behind and is running his own Daily Bugle website.

Jameson has aged accordingly since the last time we’ve seen him on screen; however, his appearance leaves a big question up in the air. Is this the same version of Jameson who we saw in the Tobey Maguire era of “Spider-Man” movies? Probably not.

If you’re familiar with 2018’s “Into the Spider-Verse,” which introduced different versions of Peter Parker living in parallel dimensions, we’re thinking this is simply a different version of Jameson suited for the MCU. We’re here for it.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Peter’s going to be panicking for a little.

(Sony)

What this means for future “Spider-Man” movies: It’s not looking great for Peter at the moment.

Not only does Parker have to juggle a new relationship with his superhero responsibilities, but now he’s probably going to be on the run, at least for a little now that his secret identity is out there.

Any new potential threats to Spidey will likely come after Aunt May, MJ, or anyone else close to Peter. While this may present immediate concern, it shouldn’t be a danger to Parker forever.

We’re not that concerned about Peter’s identity being leaked to the world. Something tells us Parker’s pals Pepper Potts and S.H.I.E.L.D. will be able to swoop in and fix this real quick. We’d be surprised if they’re not able to show that the video footage from Jameson is fake news, at some point, and make it seem as if Peter isn’t really Spidey. This is a minor hiccup for the young Spidey.

Unfortunately, Spidey’s now on Jameson’s radar and you better believe he’s probably going to be asking for more photos of Parker and Spider-Man to get further proof that the two are one and the same.

The second end-credits scene

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Nick Fury and Maria Hill go for another car ride similar to the end of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

(Sony Pictures)

What happens

We open up to Maria Hill and Nick Fury driving around in an Audi, a scene that’s reminiscent to the end of “Infinity War.”

As they’re in the car, Hill shapeshifts back into the Skrull, Soren.

“You gotta tell him, Talos,” Soren says.

Fury shapeshifts back into Soren’s husband, Talos.

“It was fine,” says Talos. “The little boy handled it. We helped.”

“How was I supposed to know that the whole thing was fake? I mean that was all very convincing,” he adds. “This is embarrassing for a shapeshifter.”

Talos decides to call the real Nick Fury.

“Hey, I hope your mission is going well. We gave the glasses to Parker about a week ago, like you said,” Talos tells Fury. “Shortly after that, everything kind of went off the rails, and so we need you to come back. Everyone kept asking where the Avengers are and I don’t know what to say to that.”

The scene cuts to the real Nick Fury who hangs up on Talos. He’s on a beach with a drink in a coconut. Fury gets up and stretches to reveal that he’s not really on a beach. He’s on a ship with other Skrulls.

“Back to work,” Fury claps. He walks further around the ship barefoot to show that he’s in space.

The scene cuts to black.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Talos was introduced in “Captain Marvel.”

(Marvel Studios)

Who are those green aliens?

If you haven’t seen “Captain Marvel,” you may have been surprised by the reveal of the shapeshifters. Soren and Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) are two friendly skrulls who were first introduced in the March 2019 movie.

A general in the Skrull Empire, Talos’ people were caught in a war with the Kree, who destroyed their home planet. Talos was reunited with his wife, Soren, and his child by the movie’s end.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

(Marvel)

Where is Nick Fury and what is he up to?

Fury’s been hanging out with the Skrulls since returning from Thanos’ life-altering Snap in “Avengers: Infinity War.” It looks like he’s trying to relax a little bit more after initially vanishing for five years.

That doesn’t mean Fury isn’t still focused on work. We see him on some unidentified Skrull ship alongside a flurry of the green guys. Fury tells everyone to get back to work. What kind of work?

Our best guess is that Fury is probably off looking for more alien life to recruit more superheroes. He’s the one who started the Avengers’ initiative. Now that Captain America and Iron Man are toast, he may need some new heroes to fill their shoes. Space seems like a good place to search.

There’s a little piece of evidence to support this. Captain Marvel tells Black Widow early in “Avengers: Endgame” that she can’t be back on Earth because she’s busy on other planets. Thanos’ Snap affected life throughout the universe and Carol Danvers looked like she was checking in on a lot of different people. We wouldn’t be surprised if Fury was going to meet Danvers on one of these planets that needed her help or if he’s looking into beings on another one of the worlds.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Peter Parker’s been to space, but he may not be ready for what’s next in the MCU.

(Sony pictures)

What does this mean for the next phase of Marvel movies? Prepare to get more celestial

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” closes out the third phase of the MCU. After more than 20 movies, where are we heading next?

The sight of Fury in space has us thinking about the future lineup of Marvel movies and most of them are reportedly pretty cosmic. Of Disney’s upcoming movie slate, there are eight untitled Marvel movies. Among the movies Marvel is currently working on are “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and “The Eternals,” two movies which deal with space and cosmic beings.

While James Gunn is returning to direct the third “GOTG” movie, we’re more interested in the latter film. Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige previously told TheWrap the film was in development. Ma Dong-seok (“Train to Busan”), Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), and Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) are reportedly among the cast, with Angelina Jolie in talks to join. We could easily see Fury hearing about these characters and jetting off to find them.

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

Jack Kirby created the Eternals in 1976.

(Marvel)

Perhaps the answer is simpler. The end of “Far From Home” could simply be teasing the next “Captain Marvel” and filling us in on what Carol Danvers has been up to since the ’90s and since Fury vanished at the end of “Infinity War.”

Hopefully, we’ll only have to wait for San Diego Comic-Con in a few short weeks to potentially hear more about the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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