During a meeting Wednesday with a number of defense reporters and experts, outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the Littoral Combat Ship against criticism.
The LCS has been noted for a series of engineering problems that has laid up a number of the early ships. The problems have called the program into question even though the USS Freedom (LCS 1) had a very successful 2010 deployment to Southern Command’s area of operations, while the USS Coronado (LCS 4) successfully defeated a simulated attack by a swarm of speedboats in a 2015 test of the surface warfare package.
Mabus particularly aimed his ire at the Pentagon’s Office of Test and Evaluation, or DOTE, which has been part of an ongoing verbal fight between Pentagon testers and the Navy.
“My reaction is that I’ve been there almost eight years,” Mabus, who was confirmed in 2009, groused to the gathered reporters. “And I’m pretty sure that [DOTE director] Michael Gilmore has never found a weapon system that’s effective, ever.”
“I know what this ship can do. I know what the fleet thinks of it,” Mabus added, citing how the office was also highly critical of the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, claiming it didn’t work or do what the Navy said it would do. The DOTE criticism came even though the plane had already entered the fleet and was drawing rave reviews from operators.
The Littoral Combat Ship covered 20 pages in the DOTE FY2016 Annual Report, which claimed the Navy “has not yet demonstrated effective capability for LCS equipped with the MCM [mine counter-measures], SUW [surface warfare], or ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission packages.”
The report also cited the 2015 cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System, and even claimed that the USS Coronado had flunked the 2015 test.
“The final thing I’ll say is, it does what we want it to do, not what you think it ought to do which is one of the things [Gilmore] does,” Mabus concluded.
The British evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII was a turning point for the island nation. Unable to go on the offensive against the Germans with their conventional Army, the British turned to more unconventional methods. “Enterprises must be prepared, with specially-trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts [of occupied Europe],” stated Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a minute to General Ismay, “first of all on the butcher and bolt policy…leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.” This butcher and bolt policy was carried out by British Commandos, forerunners of the modern Royal Marine Commandos, Special Boat Service and Special Air Service.
The elite soldiers of the SAS are well-known in popular culture thanks to their daring exploits and their depiction in media. SAS soldiers famously ended the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980 and have operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries during the War on Terror. They have been depicted in video games like Call of Duty and movies like 6 Days. Even the rom-com Love Actually referred to the SAS as, “ruthless, trained kilers,” and so they are.
More so than regular Army units, the SAS is expected to kill, and kill well. Embracing this mission, members of the SAS have taken to donning a Punisher skull badge after their first kill in combat. This affinity for the Punisher skull was allegedly adopted from the U.S. Navy SEALs who wore the symbol extensively whilst operating alongside the SAS in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though the practice is not dissimilar from fighter pilots painting the flag of the enemy on their aircraft after making an air-to-air kill, it came under scrutiny from Army officials.
In 2019, it was revealed that Army officials banned the wearing of the Punisher skull. The move was driven by the claim that the symbol was too similar to the Death’s Head symbol worn by Nazi SS soldiers. This order was reportedly issued after a visit to the SAS Regiment’s Herefordshire base by Army chiefs. Unsurprisingly, the change was not received well by the SAS. One source within the regiment noted that the “order to remove it has gone down really badly.” They elaborated on what the symbol means to a soldier when he earns it. “It’s in recognition for the work he has done – it’s not a celebration of taking a life but more to do with putting himself in a position where his own life has been put at risk.”
The order received plenty of backlash since its issuance. Former Sergeant and Military Cross (the third-highest British Military Award) recipient Trevor Coult called the move, “politically correct nonsense and ludicrous.” Enough dissension was raised that the Army reversed the decision in May 2021. The reversal also comes with a new Director Special Forces who said that he has no problem with troops wearing the badge. He reportedly wore the Punisher skull himself while operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD did not comment on the reversal.
The return of the Punisher skull was welcomed by the SAS. “When the badge was initially banned, there were many in the regiment who thought that the unit was going to fall victim to political correctness. But fortunately, someone has seen sense,” a source said. “The special forces are often sent on very dangerous missions which often involve killing people – that is a fact of life.” The SAS continues to undertake highly classified and extremely dangerous operations around the world.
On June 20, 1963, America and the Soviet Union agreed to create a direct hot-line connecting the Soviet premier and the American president.
By 1963, both Americans and Russians feared the Cold War could go hot at any moment. The two nations backed opposite factions in the Vietnam War. The 1961 Checkpoint Charlie incident in Berlin almost turned into a tank battle for the city and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis nearly triggered a nuclear war.
So in 1963, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding that established a “hotline” for direct communication between the two powers, mitigating the risk of an accidental provocation. Despite pop culture depiction of the hotline as a telephone line, messages were sent via a text-only teletype machine — much faster than relying on telegramme letters that had to travel overseas. The system was upgraded to satellite communication in 1971, fax in 1983, and finally email via a dedicated computer network in 2008.
On August 30, 1963, President John F. Kennedy became the first American with a direct line (albeit, routed through the Pentagon for encryption and transmission) to the Kremlin in Moscow. It was an instant connection, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though both parties agreed that it was to be used only in emergency situations.
Featured Image: A non-dial “Red Phone” on display in the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. This telephone is actually a prop, erroneously representing the hotline between Washington and Moscow.
Russian special forces staged a mock invasion of an island in the Gulf of Finland just days before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital.
The Russian forces parachuted onto the island of Gogland, which is part of Russia but located roughly 70 miles from Helsinki, from a Mi-8AMTSH helicopter at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The soldiers used satellite equipment to steer themselves to the landing site, according to a July 10, 2018 press release from the Russian Defense Ministry.
Once on the ground, the Russian forces camouflaged their parachutes and headed into the interior of the island to destroy a series of mock communications stations, radars, and ASM batteries, Defense One reports.
The island is equipped with a helipad, but after destroying the targets the soldiers prepared a landing site for the helicopter for their escape.
The soldiers who participated in the mock invasion had “not less than a hundred jumps with parachutes of various types,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry statement.
This exercise comes amid increasing concern from many European countries about Russian agression in the region in the wake of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Meanwhile, as Trump prepares to meet with Putin, some NATO member states seem to be concerned he’s too soft on the Russian leader and doesn’t fully value the historic alliance.
Trump was widely criticized for his rhetoric and demeanor at the summit. Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO, accused the president of “diplomatic malpractice” and expressed concern over Trump’s disposition toward Putin.
“You cannot imagine any American president all the way back 75 years deciding to become the critic-in-chief of NATO,” Burns said on July 11, 2018. “I mean, it’s Orwellian. He’s making our friends out to be our enemies and treating our enemies, like Putin, as our friends, and he’s misrepresenting the facts.”
Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.
While the gunner easily dispatched those first soldiers in the open, hundreds of fighters, many in civilian clothes or firing from bunkers, remained. And they put up a fierce resistance with small arms, mortars, and RPGs.
An early RPG hit disabled a Bradley, and the next major RPG hit disabled the Abrams. For almost 20 minutes, the Americans attempted to put out the flames and save the machine. But more fighters kept coming and Schwartz made the decision to sacrifice the tank wreckage to save the armored column.
The crew was moved to another vehicle and the crucial sensitive items were removed from the tank. Then the tankers filled the vehicle with thermite grenades and took off through the city. The Air Force later dropped bombs on what remained.
In the video below, Schwartz and other tankers involved in the battle discuss the unprecedented decision to abandon an Abrams tank.
The Iraqi government loyal to Saddam Hussein later claimed that the tank was killed, which would have given them credit for the first combat kill of an Abrams tank. The U.S. argued that it was merely disabled, and that it was the U.S. Army’s thermite grenades and later U.S. Air Force bombs that actually destroyed it.
There was a reason he was known as “Give ‘Em Hell Harry.”
Truman was the last President to take office without a college degree and started his military career as an enlisted man in the Missouri National Guard. He wanted to join so bad, he memorized an eye chart to pass the Army physical – he couldn’t see well enough to get in on his own. He first enlisted in 1905.
By the time WWI rolled around, Truman re-enlisted and had been elected an officer. It was on the battlefields of France that he was given command of Battery D – dubbed “Dizzy D” for its bad reputation. The onetime Pvt. Truman was now Capt. Truman, in command of 194 men.
Those men tried to intimidate him at every turn, even giving him the “Bronx Cheer” after formations. But a guy like “Captain Harry” wasn’t about to take that garbage in his command. He began to hold his NCOs responsible for the junior enlisted behavior – and the discipline changed in a hurry.
His men began to obey him loyally, especially in combat, and Truman enjoyed his command. The only time they faltered was during an artillery exchange with the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, where both sides exchanged gas and high explosive shells for more than 30 minutes.
Truman was tossed from his horse, which fell on top of him into a shell crater. Panic and disorder gripped his company when they were supposed to fall back, but they had no horses to pull the artillery. The guns were getting stuck in the mud as German shells rained on them.
The company first sergeant ordered the men to make a run for it.
That’s when Capt. Truman was pulled out from under his horse. He stood on the battlefield and unleashed a string of curses so profane it actually shocked his enlisted men to turn around and run back into the hail of chemicals and explosions to man their guns.
Maybe it was his time as an enlisted artilleryman, or maybe the future President picked that language up while working on the Santa Fe rail lines and sleeping like a hobo. He sure didn’t pick it up at West Point – because he couldn’t get in.
During his presidency, Truman kept his spot as a U.S. Army reserve colonel, leaving after 37 years of service. When his presidency ended, he and his wife Bess drove back to Missouri, not to a corporate boardroom – which he considered it a black mark on the office of the president.
Chinese media recently released a video of a really intense military training exercise in which a 40-ton armored vehicle drives over troops laying on the ground, with the vehicle tracks passing dangerously close to the heads of the Chinese soldiers.
At the start of the video, an officer asks the soldiers: “Do you have confidence in the soldier beside you?” After shouting back “yes,” one soldier departs to climb aboard the armored vehicle as the others drop to the ground, awaiting their fellow soldier to run over them.
The tracked armored vehicle in the video looks like the HQ-17 surface-to-air missile transporter erector launcher. The HQ-17, which was publicly revealed in 2015, is a reverse-engineered Chinese variant of the Russian Tor-M1 system.
In two other related videos, soldiers involved in the demonstration talk about their experience. One soldier on the ground says he was “really nervous.”
Another Chinese soldier described the training exercise as a test of the armored vehicle driver’s skills and character, as well as an opportunity to boost trust and confidence between soldiers.
The exercise is unusual in that it has troops lying sideways, putting them at greater risk, but it is certainly not the first time China has had armored vehicles drive over troops in training.
The US Navy is banning vaping aboard ships, submarines, aircraft, boats, craft and heavy equipment.
The Navy announced April 14 that it is suspending the use, possession, storage and charging of so-called “Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” aboard navy craft following continued reports of explosions of ENDS due to the overheating of lithium-ion batteries.
The prohibition applies to sailors, Marines, Military Sealift Command civilians and any personnel working on or visiting those units.
The Navy said it implemented this policy to protect the safety and welfare of sailors and to protect the ships, submarines, aircraft and equipment. Multiple sailors have suffered serious injuries from these devices, to include first- and second-degree burns and facial disfigurement. In these cases, injuries resulted from battery explosions during ENDS use, charging, replacement or inadvertent contact with a metal object while transporting.
The prohibition will be effective 30 days from the release of the policy May 14, and will remain in effect until a final determination can be made following a thorough analysis.
Deployed units may request extensions on device removal until their next port visit. Supervisors should ensure that removable lithium-ion batteries are removed from the units and stored according to the ENDS manufacturer instructions, in plastic wrap, in a plastic bag or any other non-conductive storage container.
Sailors on shore will still be allowed to use ENDS on base, but must do so in designated smoking areas ashore while on military installations.
Most of us think of highly-trained spies and espionage units as the best of the best, Cold War ninjas who would never dream of getting caught lest they be disavowed by Washington, Moscow, London, or wherever they come from.
If 1980s-era film and television has taught us anything, it’s that the Russian spy agencies are among the best of the best. If that was true, something is severely lacking lately, because one of their spy units keeps getting caught doing some high-profile greasy stuff.
Russia’s GRU unit 29155 was recently outed as the unit behind the alleged payment of bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But that’s not the only high-visibility mission that was uncovered in recent days. 29155 was also allegedly behind the effort to hack Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the assassination of former KGB spy Sergei Skripal in England, and an attempted coup in Montenegro.
The unit is part of the Russian military intelligence apparatus, responsible for intelligence gathering and operations outside of the Russian Federation. The GRU (as it’s known outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union) was not as widely known or regarded as the Soviet KGB or the KGB’s antecedents, the Russian SVR and FSB, but today it is the go-to agency for military-related operations.
Why? Because it deploys six times as many foriegn operatives as the FSB or SVR. The GRU is Russia’s largest foreign security service. But unlike the KGB, the GRU has been largely unchanged since its Soviet heyday.
The GRU is the unit that takes on the most important military operations, like say, partnering with the Taliban or killing off former Soviet spies. But Foreign Policy says their work has been pretty sloppy in the past few years.
In the case of bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence services were actually able to track bank transfers between the Taliban and GRU accounts overseas. As for the other plots, it didn’t even require intelligence services. Media outlets inside and outside of Russia have been able to track members of 29155 because they kept reusing aliases with questionable cover stories to travel throughout the world.
Using these bits of information, the movement of GRU assets was relatively easy to track for the media, who published their findings. It was so easy, the information was confirmed by multiple countries’ intelligence agencies. The members of 29155 were mapped and tracked all over Europe.
Two of the 29155’s agents, Alexander Petrov (really Alexander Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (real name Anatoliy Chepiga), were caught red-handed by Scotland Yard on closed-circuit tv cameras in the 2018 assassination plot of Sergei Skripal.
In that plot, the use of a Soviet nerve agent, along with the GRU operatives, led investigators not only to 29155, but to Chepiga entire graduating class of the GRU academy. From there, they uncovered plots to poison an arms dealer, interfering in elections in Spain, and even a coup in NATO member Montenegro.
Western intelligence saw the effort as a “Rosettta Stone” in reading Russian intelligence movements abroad.
A Ukranian website posted several screenshots from Russian job listing websites offering high-paid but vague jobs for those willing to work on “security” projects abroad, and reported that such listings have spiked sharply in February 2018, when the battle took place.
The ads seek recruits with good physical fitness who can go on “business trips” to Ukraine or Syria for about three months. Russia stands accused of sending “little green men” or military contractors without proper Russian military uniforms or affiliation, to wage war in those two countries.
Multiple reports state that Russia’s reason for using military contractors in Syria, where it is fighting against insurgents who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, is to conceal the true cost of the war to Russian servicemen.
But the conditions for the contractors are reportedly bleak. Hundreds of Russian mercenaries were reportedly routed in a battle with US airpower, against which they were defenseless. Alleged leaked audio from Russian paramilitary commanders captures them lamenting the unwise battle, and expressing humiliation at their sound defeat.
Russian officials admit to only a few Russian nationals dying in battles, and several dozen wounded, but all other reporting of the battle portrays severe losses for the pro-government side, which many say was mostly Russian.
A Russian paramilitary official recently told France24 that he had 150 men in freezers in Syria as “minced meat,” and that their mortal remains won’t even be returned to their family until after Russia’s presidential election in March 2018. The official, however, said that now Russian men were volunteering not for money, but for revenge.
Throughout history, humans have often weaponized faith. This makes any discussion of the intersection between wellness and spirituality especially tricky because it can be divisive – which is counterintuitive to our relatively inclusive military and veteran cultures.
However, as a Marine I’m always ready to tackle tough things, and as a social scientist invested in teaching veterans how to optimize their performance at home and work, I cannot ignore the compelling data surrounding the positive effects of spirituality.
Maj. Alejandro Sanchez, chaplain, Puerto Rico Army National Guard, says a prayer during the ceremony that marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (U.S. Army photo)
What does spiritual fitness have to do with anything?
There are explicit, direct, trackable ties between resilient trait cultivation and spirituality. These ties include common-sense connections to things like behavioral health, social support, and philanthropic leanings, and the more mysterious connection between positive thoughts and their impact on us at a cellular level.
From Stanford to Duke University to Oxford, some really interesting research is being conducted globally on the ways in which spirituality and religiosity (self-reported connection to organized religion) can improve everything from healing and recovery time to pain tolerance and longevity. The protective effects faith offers when it comes to depression and anxiety conditions are especially significant.
Many scholars and scientists who are not religious do believe that at some level we’re wired for spirituality. For example, at the top of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sits transcendence – or the human need to connect with something bigger and outside of ourselves.
The protective factors offered by spirituality and religiosity are very powerful – even more powerful than many of the behavioral health practices that the military currently invests in financially. Because of this, the topic deserves a closer look in any honest conversation about building resilience.
So what’s the tie-in to resilience?
The links between spirituality, religiosity, and resilience can be found in three main areas that are significant not only statistically, but also practically in terms of health benefits.
1. Behavioral Health
People who identify as individually spiritual enjoy a number of benefits at the psychological and neurological levels. However, these health benefits are amplified and extended with higher levels of subjective religiosity – in particular when people take their spirituality a step further and practice it with some kind of community.
For example, binge drinking and promiscuous sex – which are high-risk for our bodies – are generally discouraged by major world religions. Religious people across demographics and age exhibit lower rates of smoking, alcohol abuse, drug use, and almost all risk-taking behaviors than their nonreligious peers. They also enjoy lower rates of depression and anxiety, better mental health, and even a slower progression of dementia.
In short, people who gather around an idea of virtue and live it out with community support are less likely to engage in physiologically high-risk behaviors. This tendency toward healthier living results in better long term health outcomes.
2. Social Support
People who are very religious tend to be members of a faith community and enjoy strong social ties as a result.
Many faiths encourage both the practice of gratitude and giving to others outside of the social contract (which is essentially the idea that if I do something nice for you, you’ll do something nice for me). They prompt members to give to people who can’t fulfil their end of the social contract. This is the essence of philanthropic giving, which has demonstrated physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.
Of course, you needn’t be spiritual to give generously, but religious Americans give significantly more both financially and in terms of volunteer hours than their nonreligious peers.
3. Positive Thought
Researchers have found an inexplicable link between the practice of prayer and lowered blood cortisol levels and increased high-level cognitive capabilities. Because the brain influences bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and the immune system, shifting what happens in the brain through spiritual practice can have significant physical impacts.
U.S. Marines participate in a formation run prior to a physical-training competition. Elements of the 15th MEU are ashore in Djibouti for sustainment training to maintain and enhance the skills they developed during their pre-deployment training period. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry)
In fact, in prayer (unlike in meditation) the relationship centers of the brain light up. The parietal lobes light up too. These lobes are on the side of the brain and allow you to experience feelings of empathy. In the Christian tradition there’s a sacred text that speaks to being transformed by the renewal of your mind, and today we’re understanding that spiritual practice can actually grow your empathy and increase your ability to connect deeply with others.
Aren’t there downsides to religion?
It’s true that all of the benefits of a beloved social community can also turn negative. If acceptance lowers blood cortisol levels, rejection raises it. So many people have been battered by faith communities around the world. However, although finding an affirming community of faith is a complicated process, it is also important because it reinforces the helpful behaviors and activities listed above.
If you’re curious, but don’t have a tradition you feel drawn to, commit to doing some research. Maybe take a cultural literacy course on world religions to orient yourself. Then, carve out time to ask yourself big questions in a sincere way. Do some research, some learning, and look for an affirming faith community that feels like an authentic choice and fit.
The three pillars of a resilient life are social support, self-care, and spirituality. The individual value of these pillars is backed irrefutably by science, and – when practiced together – their benefits increase exponentially.
This PTSD and trauma-engagement program welcomes veterans of all faith backgrounds. It provides resource for active duty servicemembers and veterans looking to bring spirituality to their day to day.
Big Question Inspiration
What has “faith” or “spirituality” looked like in my past? What does it mean to me?
How would I assess my current spiritual health? Do I spend time on it? Do I think about it at all?
What do I believe?
Where do I need to go to learn more?
Who can I reach out to as I figure this out?
About the Author
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
April 27, 2018’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in was planned down to every last footstep.
The two countries even did a joint rehearsal of their two leaders meeting, shaking hands, and walking around the grounds of the Demilitarized Zone using stand-ins to make sure every second was calibrated as best as possible for the world’s cameras.
But for a moment, Kim went completely off script.
After shaking hands with Moon and stepping across the border line into South Korea, Kim invited Moon to step back into North Korea with him.
The South Korean president’s residence, The Blue House, confirmed the moment was “unscheduled.” According to a spokesman, Moon asked Kim, “When do I get to visit the North,” to which Kim replied “Why don’t you just come over to the North side now?”
The sudden invite didn’t appear to worry Moon, who was seen laughing and talking with Kim, before the two paused for a handshake on the North Korean side.
At another point, Kim appeared to go off script again joking about the famous cold noodles he had brought in from Pyongyang, which is “far.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘far’ now,” he seemed to quickly backtrack.
But the two moments, however light-hearted, will probably be taken very seriously by the US intelligence community.
Kim is an incredibly secretive leader — he even travels with his own toilet to prevent his health being analyzed through his excrements — which means intelligence officials rely on any and all clues to understand how he thinks and operates.
Intelligence officials told Reuters that experts will closely watch the inter-Korean summit and analyze what Kim says as well as his body language.
The current profile of Kim focuses on his tendencies for ruthlessness as well as rationality. But inviting Moon on a surprise visit to the North could also hint at a tendency for spontaneity.
This could pose a problem for the Trump administration’s strategy for meeting with Kim.