The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in December, provides the military justice system new tools to prosecute service members who maliciously distribute sexually explicit images of others.
The 2018 NDAA adds Article 117a to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “The new article is titled ‘Wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images’,” said Lt. Col. Jay L. Thoman, a judge advocate and the chief of the Army’s Criminal Law Policy Branch.
The “Marines United” scandal of 2017 was a driving force behind the addition of Article 117a to the UCMJ, Thoman said.
As part of that scandal, more than 30,000 active duty and retired armed forces members were initially accused of being involved in the distribution or viewing of private, intimate, or sexually explicit imagery. A portion of the distributed material included images of female service members and military spouses.
“Posting compromising pictures of fellow service members not only works to undercut the trust within the unit but is completely counter to the values the services represent,” Thoman said. “It has the potential to destroy unit cohesion, hurts the victim, and is destructive.
“With the implementation of Article 117a, there is now a clearer way to bring offenders to justice,” Thoman said.
“It seems that Congress wanted to make sure that this type of behavior was unmistakably not acceptable. Criminalizing the conduct sent just that message,” Thoman said.
With the passing of the 2018 NDAA, those who distribute the kinds of images that were part of the “Marines United” scandal are now on notice that they could be found “guilty of wrongful distribution of intimate visual images or visual images of sexually explicit conduct and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Article 117a, now part of the UCMJ, goes to great lengths to clarify what constitutes wrongdoing, and defines specific terminology, Thoman said.
According to the article, the accused should know that the person depicted in the image retains a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In addition, the accused should know that the broadcast of imagery was likely to cause “harm, harassment, intimidation, emotional distress, or financial loss to the person depicted in the image, or harms substantially the depicted person’s health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships.”
To provide even further clarity, lawmakers defined in detail the language used in the law.
The term “broadcast,” for instance, means to “electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons.”
The term “sexually explicit conduct” is defined to include “actual or simulated genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, or oral-anal contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse.”
Other terms defined include “distribute,” “intimate visual image,” “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and “visual image.”
A necessary change
According to Thoman, there was a limit to the actions the U.S. military legal system could take against a service member prior to inclusion of Article 117a in the UCMJ.
“While it has been illegal to create an indecent photo of an unknowing subject, if they willingly participated, the legality of forwarding that picture to a third party was uncertain,” he said.
An example of this most commonly occurs in a relationship turned bad. If two Soldiers are dating, Soldier A can legally take a graphic picture of themselves and then send it to Soldier B, in most situations.
“However, just because it is legal does not necessarily make it a good idea,” he added.
Soldier B cherishes the picture and did not think of showing it to anyone else until the relationship sours and the two Soldiers breakup. Soldier B, still feeling angry about the breakup, forwards the picture to Soldier A’s squad. While Soldier B is temporarily upbeat about thinking of such an easy way to get back at Soldier A, in all likelihood, Soldier B has just committed a federal crime, Thoman said.
According to Thoman, the legal analysis to get to a federal conviction is now more straightforward for that case.
The accused knowingly distributed an image of another person. The image depicted the private area of that person. The person was identifiable. The identified person did not give their consent. The accused knew the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy and was caused emotional distress as a result of the distribution. Finally, under the circumstances, the accused’s conduct had a reasonably direct and evident connection to a military environment.
In addition to the changes to the UCMJ, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program officials want to ensure that support is available to Soldiers impacted by the illegal broadcast of intimate or sexually explicit imagery.
Considered to be a form of sexual harassment, victims of the crime as spelled out in Article 117a who choose to receive services will receive support from a victim advocate who can provide crisis intervention. That intervention includes such things as referrals to behavioral health, chaplains, special victim witness liaisons, and the victim witness assistance program.
Additionally, Soldiers will have access to safety planning, accompaniment to interviews and appointments, and assistance with obtaining a military or civilian protective order, according to LeWonnie Belcher, SHARP program office branch chief for communications, outreach, and leadership engagement.
According to Thoman, the implementation of Article 117a fills a gap in military law. And while technology will continue to evolve, he said, the new law was written broadly enough to accommodate those changes.
“I think ‘revenge porn,’ as it is commonly called, is a growing issue across society,” Thoman said. “Because of that, we see an increase in the frequency in the military as well. Ultimately, Article 117a could help prevent that divisiveness in the future that could disrupt a unit when something like this happens.”
In the distant future, teams of soldiers equipped with high-powered exoskeletons disembark a series of autonomous personnel carriers outside the enemy’s position. Overhead, a small fleet of drones scans the engagement area, giving each soldier a real-time view of the battlefield through their heads-up display.
As each team moves into position, they hear a series of explosions on the other side of the enemy base. From over 2,000 meters away, the Army’s high-energy precision fires systems have just disabled the enemy’s anti-access and area-denial capabilities.
At the same time, teams of soldiers use their exoskeleton suits to leap over the perimeter wall to engage the enemy and secure the compound.
This is one scenario of a future operating environment. In reality, it is nearly impossible to predict how the Army will operate and fight in a distant future, said Matt Santaspirt, an Army Futures Command intelligence representative.
To guide the Army in the right direction, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Mad Scientist team functions like a scout on the battlefield, always looking ahead and evaluating ideas to help build the force, he said.
Nested within both Army Futures and Training and Doctrine Commands, the MadSci initiative was created to address opportunities and challenges in the Army’s near-, mid-, and far-term future, said Allison Winer, the team’s deputy director of engagement.
(courtesy of Mad Scientist Initiative)
The goal is to maximize the Army’s limited resources and help soldiers fight and win in a futuristic operational environment, she added.
“The Army only knows what it knows; and [the Army] always talks to itself,” Santaspirt said. “We want to break out of that echo chamber.”
“We are harnessing the intellect of the nation to describe the art of the possible,” he added. “We know that you can’t predict the future, but we’re trying to say, ‘Here is a range of possibilities.’ [The goal] is to be less wrong than our adversary.”
To accomplish this goal, the MadSci team compiles information from a wide range of sources, in support of Army senior leaders’ priorities, Santaspirt said.
These sources include traditional mediums: academia, industry, think tanks, labs, reports, and white papers; to the more nontraditional platforms: crowdsourcing, social media, science fiction, and cinema, to name a few.
Beyond the collection of materials, the MadSci team often organizes themed conferences, bringing communities together to address key Army topics. For example, the team recently conducted the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Future Operational Environment Conference in Austin, Texas.
During the conference, presenters addressed robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomy, the future of space, planetary habitability, and the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding how these disruptive technologies will impact the future of warfare, specifically in the land and space domains, according to MadSci officials.
“We had somebody come in and talk about robotics and how we can use them in an austere environment,” Santaspirt said, adding there were specific examples of robotics used in Fukushima, Japan.
“The approach is to bring together experts … so we can refine those key ideas, and disrupt [the Army’s] assumptions,” he said.
(courtesy of Mad Scientist Initiative)
A week after the event, the team posted some key takeaways from the conference on the Mad Scientist Blog. The MadSci blog and other social media platforms are often used as a crowdsourcing tool to help poll an audience or generate conversation about key Army topics, Winer said.
Some of the conference findings included: a need to set left and right boundaries for artificial intelligence and autonomy, increased crowding of assets in space will cause operational challenges, and fake news coupled with hyper-connectivity is changing the nature of information warfare.
Additionally, the MadSci team organizes science fiction writing competitions to help determine possible futures for crucial Army programs, Winer said. For years, science fiction has depicted worlds that are both logically possible, but functionally different than current society.
“Science fiction is used as a kind of forecasting to see what possible futures might look like,” she said. “Aside from being just plain-on cool, it gives the Army a way to use storytelling, historical analysis, and outsourcing to write about the realm of the possible. And it is an effective tool for a lot of businesses and other leaders in industry to try.”
Through their research and continual online engagements, the MadSci team creates a range of possibilities, then later presents their findings to Army senior leaders and key decision makers, Santaspirt said.
“It is a different way of thinking,” Santaspirt said. “If [the Army] can get that out there and start meeting the right people, make certain decisions or investments, or get people thinking in a different way … you might see what we’ve discovered — as it comes to light down the road.”
After volunteering to deploy to Iraq four times, the Marine Corps finally sent Cpl. Jared Foster to Baghdad in February 2005. He was assigned as a personal security detail driver for VIPs in the Baghdad area when tragedy struck.
Just a month later after being sent to Iraq, Foster was just sitting down in his tent after a fire watch when a weapon discharged. With all the smoke in the tent, Foster thought a grenade had gone off. He was wrong.
“I saw smoke,” he told AZCentral in a 2007 interview. “Then I looked down because I felt something really cold, and when I lifted my hand up, it had blood all over it.”
Foster couldn’t move and couldn’t hear, but tried to yell for help. A .50-caliber rifle discharged from just five feet behind him. The shot should have torn him in half. Instead, it missed his spine and exited through his stomach.
His friends cut off his blouse to tend to his wounds and his intestines fell out. When they told him he was shot by a .50-cal, he didn’t believe them.
“Nah, that would rip your head off, he told them.” He lost consciousness shortly after.
What kind of BMG round went through Foster’s body isn’t clear but the various types of 50-caliber ammunition are commonly used to penetrate vehicle armor or chew through protective cover – like concrete.
Two years later, the Marine told AZCentral that he was evacuated to the Bethesda Naval Medical Center and subsequently underwent some 45 surgeries. He lost his tailbone and suffered damage to his large and small intestines. He was even told he would never walk again.
“I say I don’t have a butt to sit on now, and I really don’t,” Foster is quoted as saying in a Marine Corps Safety Corner. “The only thing that saved my life is I was maybe five to 10 feet away from the .50-cal when it went off, and it didn’t have time to tumble and pick up speed and velocity. It went through me, three feet of wood, four feet of a dirt berm, went another 300 yards and hit another dirt berm.”
Not only did Foster survive the wound, but he was also on his feet and walking within two years of being shot.
“The doctors said they didn’t know if they could save me,” he told the Marine Corps Safety Corner. “They didn’t know how to put me back together because they’d never seen anyone shot by a .50-caliber. The hole in my back was huge. But whatever they did worked.”
Phase 2 is to get you back into your homes and dorms to inspect and collect your belongings, and it has begun.
We are opening the gates for limited access for five days from Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, through Sunday Oct. 21, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Military members, military dependents, civilians, civilian dependents, and nonappropriated fund employees may voluntarily go to Tyndall Air Force Base and the surrounding area to evaluate their personal property. No reimbursement is authorized for voluntary travel performed. This evaluation may only be accomplished between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Central Standard Time on the previously mentioned days.
We must emphasize the importance of following the established guidelines set in-place for this limited access. There are restrictions in-place for a multitude of reasons, safety being a top concern. Force Protection measures will be in place to ensure everyone travels directly to their home and exits the gate in an orderly fashion.
Hurricane Michael made landfall as a catastrophic Category 4 close to Tyndall Air Force Base in the afternoon of Oct. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy)
All residents entering Tyndall AFB will abide by the following rules:
Personnel will proceed through a check point for all housing and dorm areas. Emergency contact information will be provided since the local 911 emergency system is inoperative.
Dorm residents will enter through the Louisiana Gate entrance, the eastern most gate on 98.
Housing residents south of 98 will enter through the Sabre Gate, the gate across from the Visitor’s Center.
Shoal Point and Bayview residents will check in at the Visitors Center across from the Sabre Gate.
Access is restricted to housing areas and dorms.
You must be self-sufficient. Ensure you have enough water and food. Personal protective equipment is highly recommended and should include at a minimum safety glasses, gloves and a hard hat. Gas is in limited supply in the local area; fill vehicles outside approximately 70 miles from the Tyndall AFB local area. A tire plug kit is recommended due to the potential for debris.
No pets will be allowed on base.
I strongly recommend you refrain from bringing children, as their safety cannot be guaranteed.
This temporary suspension of the evacuation applies to both off-base and on-base housing.
You will NOT be able to stay. All must depart the base, and surrounding area to include Shoal Point and Bayview, not later than 3 p.m. Central Standard Time to ensure you comply with mandated curfew requirements.
All Tyndall AFB personnel remain under the previously mandated evacuation order.
You are welcome to collect your belongings during the aforementioned days.
You will be permitted to bring moving vehicles to transport your belongings and store them outside the evacuation area at your own expense.
You will be permitted to remove vehicles left on base, as long as moving them is safe and the vehicles are drivable.
Staying overnight anywhere in the evacuation area will void your evacuation benefits.
Mental health representatives, chaplains and additional points of contact will be available to provide the best support possible during this difficult time.
Hurricane Michael created significant structural damage to the majority of the Tyndall Air Force Base and surrounding areas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy)
Please understand that our base and local area remain dangerous. We are still cleaning roads, power lines and debris. This has been a major undertaking but we are getting better each day.
We continue working a long term plan of action but we simply aren’t there yet, as we are concentrating on the short term day-to-day recovery actions.
Q: What if I cannot return to Tyndall AFB within the five-day period? Will I have another opportunity to gather my belongings? A: A long term plan of action is being formed. More information will be available in the coming days.
Q: Am I able to bring a non-military member with me since my spouse is deployed? A: Yes, you are.
The United States of America has sued Black Nights Wine Spirits to stop the Highland Falls liquor store from using a name confusingly similar to the Black Knights nickname used by the academy’s athletic teams as far back as the 1940s. After four cease-and-desist letters and the filing of the lawsuit on Aug. 8, the store has seemingly conceded.
“We’ve changed the name to Good Nights,” said a man who answered the phone at the store recently. He said Frank Carpentieri, the owner of Frasiekenjes, LLC, the company that runs the store, would not be available for a few days.
The lawsuit, filed by acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim, accuses the liquor merchant of tarnishing the academy’s brands.
The Department of the Army holds several trademarks for “Black Knights” and the West Point crest, so it did not escape its attention when Black Nights Wine and Spirits opened last September on Main Street in Highland Falls, just beyond the West Point gates. The store’s name, the Army says, falsely suggests that the enterprise is “associated with or endorsed and approved by the US Military Academy at West Point.”
The Army drew a line in the sand within weeks of the store opening, mailing a cease-and-desist letter that alleges trademark infringement.
The store then installed a more permanent “Black Nights” sign and placed several items in and around the store that highlight West Point themes.
Besides the alleged abuse of West Point’s goodwill and brand reputation, the lawsuit states that the liquor store defies military policies.
“The Department of the Army is highly concerned with the use of alcohol among its soldiers and is committed to de-glamorizing its use,” the complaint states.
The Army is fast-tracking newly configured Stryker vehicles armed with helicopter and drone-killing weapons to counter Russia in Europe and provide more support to maneuvering Brigade Combat Teams in combat.
“We are looking for a rapid solution for the near-term fight,” Maj. Gen. John Ferarri, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The Strykers will fire a wide range of weapons to destroy close-in air threats attacking maneuvering ground units, to potentially include Hellfire or Stinger missiles. The program, which plans to deploy its first vehicles to Europe by 2020, is part of an Army effort called Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD).
Senior leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype by 2019 as an step toward producing 144 initial systems.
Given that counterinsurgency tactics have taken center stage during the last 15 years of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army now recognizes a need to better protect ground combat formations against more advanced, near-peer type enemy threats – such as drones, helicopters or low-flying aircraft.
“We are looking for an end to end system that is able to detect and defeat the rotary wing fixed wing and UAS (drone) threat to the maneuvering BCT (Brigade Combat Team),” Col. Charles Worshim, Project Manager for Cruise Missile Defense Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Worshim said the Army has sent a solicitation to a group of more than 500 weapons developers, looking for missiles, guns, and other weapons like a 30mm cannon able to integrate onto a Stryker vehicle.
Although drone threats have been rapidly escalating around the globe, US enemies such as the Taliban or ISIS have not presented air-attacking threats such as helicopters, aircraft, or large amounts of drones. However, as the Army evaluates it strategic calculus moving forward, there is widespread recognition that the service must be better equipped to face technically sophisticated enemies.
“We atrophied air defense if you think about it. With more near-peer major combat operations threats on the horizon, the need for SHORAD and high-tier weapons like THAAD and PATRIOT comes back to the forefront. This is a key notion of maneuverable SHORAD — if you are going to maneuver you need an air defense capability able to stay up with a formation,” the senior Army official said.
As part of its emerging fleet of SHORAD Stryker vehicles, the Army is exploring four different weapons areas to connect with on-board sensor and fire control, Worshim said; they include Hellfire missiles, Stinger missiles, gun capabilities, and 30mm cannons.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson)
Also, it goes without saying that any kind of major enemy ground assault is likely to include long range fire, massive air support as well as closer in helicopters and drones to support an advancing mechanized attack.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address these closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles, and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can. PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
The Army is also developing a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher designed to destroy drones and cruise missiles on the move in combat. The MML has already successfully fired Hellfire, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and other weapons as a mobile air-defense weapon. It is showing great promise in testing, fires multiple missiles, and brings something previous not there to Army forces. However, an Armed Stryker can fortify this mission — by moving faster in combat and providing additional armored vehicle support to infantry on the move in a high-threat combat environment.
The SHORAD effort has been under rapid development by the Army for several years now; in 2017, the service held a SHORAD “live-fire shooting demo” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where they fired a number of emerging platforms.
Some of the systems included in the demonstration included Israel’s well-known Iron Dome air defense system, a Korean-build Hanwha Defense Systems armored vehicle air defense platform and a General Dynamics Land Systems Stryker Maneuver SHORAD Launcher.
US military officials familiar with the demonstration said the Hanwha platform used was a South Korean K30 Biho, called the Flying Tiger; it is a 30mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon which combines an electro-optically guided 30mm gun system with surveillance radar on a K200 chassis.
A General Dynamics Land Systems specially-armed Stryker vehicles were also among the systems which recently destroyed enemy drone targets during the demonstration at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. — according to Army officials familiar with the event.
One of the Strykers used was an infantry carrier armed with an Orbital ATK XM 81330mm 30mm cannon; this weapon can be fired from within the Stryker vehicle using a Remote Weapons Station, Army officials said.
An industry source familiar with the demonstration said Iron Dome hit its air targets but elected not to fire at surface targets, the Flying Tiger completely missed its targets, the Orbital ATK integrated gun failed to engage targets and General Dynamics Land Systems SHORAD hit all three targets out of three attempts.
Worshim emphasized that those vendors who participated in the demo will not necessarily be the technology chosen by the Army, however the event did greatly inform requirements development of the weapons systems. Also, while SHORAD has been integrated onto a Stryker, the Army only recently decided that it would be the ideal armored combat platform for the weapon.
At the same time, building similarly armed Bradleys or infantry carriers is by no means beyond the realm of the possible as the service rushes to adapt to new ground war threats.
“There could be an air and missile defense mission equipment package integrated onto other combat vehicles,” Worshim said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
This weekend, comic book fans all over the world were saddened by the terrible news that the father of superheroes had passed — and veterans lost a brother-in-arms who dedicated his life to the arts. This week, the Army Signal Corps says farewell to its most prominent member.
Stan Lee, WWII veteran, comic-book author, and editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, passed away on the morning of November 12, 2018. As painful as this news is to his family, friends, and fans around the world, we can all appreciate the fact that his life was a very accomplished one. The only way to truly honor a man so great is by reflecting on his storied life and “rise ever upward.” Or, as he’d put it, in it’s Latin form, “excelsior!”
Captain America Comics #3 (1941)
Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber, began his career in the comic book world in 1939 when he took on a position as an assistant at Timely Comics under Joe Simon. It wasn’t an easy job, but it needed doing. He’d get people lunch, make sure everyone’s inkwells were full, and even do some proofreading — these weren’t glamorous duties, but they kept the wheels turning. When he finally touched the comic book world directly, he changed it forever — he was given a small amount of creative control over Captain America #3, and he used it to give Cap his signature shield ricochet.
Many years later, and troops doodling things to pass the time hasn’t changed one bit.
What was nothing more than a small writer’s credit at the time gave rise to immense goals. From that moment forward, Lee set out to create the next “Great American Novel.” As we all know, this ambition eventually morphed and developed into the greater Marvel Universe, a web of fictions that has today touched the lives of millions across the globe. But this lofty goal wasn’t outside of the scope of reality for a 19-year old Stan Lee — he believed in himself.
By then, World War II was heating up and Lee found himself enlisted in the Army by early 1942. Soon after that, he was at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, learning to string and repair communication lines. In his downtime, he’d continue to draw and write to help pass the time.
It wasn’t long until the Army realized that they needed to create training films to onboard the massive influx of new troops. Because of the highly-sensitive nature of the process, they couldn’t trust just anyone to create them — they needed soldiers. The Army began its Signal Corps Photographic Center at Fort Monmouth, which, coincidentally, was where Lee was stationed.
Lee’s superior officers recognized his creative talents from his hobbies and his earlier work with Timely Comics. So, they more or less hey-you’d him into using his talents for the Army. This was exactly the break he needed. He was laterally transferred to the Fort Monmouth Film Production Laboratory and worked side by side with some of the other greatest artistic visionaries of the U.S. Army.
He stood in formation with Frank Capra, the three-time Academy-Award-winning director for films like It’s a Wonderful Life, cartoonist Charles Addams of The Addams Family fame, and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Lee was one of nine soldiers to ever earn the position of “playwright” for the U.S. Army.
Lee didn’t have any notoriety before then, unlike many of his famous fellow soldiers. He was, simply, that guy who wrote for comic books, but that didn’t phase him one bit. He kept giving the Army his all — and it showed. He was so good and so fast at what he did, in fact, that he was asked to slow down many times because it made everyone else look bad.
This scene in Avengers 2 will always bring joy to my heart.
(Walt Disney Studios)
Lee’s service concluded in 1945 and he went back to Timely Comics. No longer was he just some kid grabbing coffee; he was a war hero. The skills he developed while quickly chugging out quality content for the Army was exactly the type of tempo needed in the comic world.
Lee used his Army experiences to perfect comic book making. He turned the process into a creative assembly line. Lee would write the captions in the bubbles, another artist would pencil in the scene, another would color it, and another would finalize the lettering. This style became known as the “Marvel Method.” It distributed the workload evenly and it gave everyone equal creative input.
Stan Lee may not have written the next Moby Dick as he planned while a bright-eyed 19-year-old, but there’s no denying that his life’s work — the Marvel Universe — stands tall as the most enduring, relevant collection of fiction of his era.
Rest easy, Mr. Lee. You made True Believers out of all of us.
A special operations airman from the Kentucky Air National Guard will receive the nation’s second-highest medal for combat valor for his actions on an Afghanistan battlefield.
Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, will present the Air Force Cross to Tech. Sgt Daniel P. Keller, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, in a ceremony Ept. 13, 2019. The award — second only to the Medal of Honor — is given to members of the armed forces who display extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.
Keller earned the Air Force Cross on Aug. 16, 2017, while assigned as a joint terminal attack controller for Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component Afghanistan during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Keller was on a clearance mission in Nangarhar Province against 350 Islamic state fighters, according to the award citation. After 15 hours of sustained contact, the assault force struck an improvised explosive device, killing four personnel and wounding 31. Injured and struggling to his feet, Keller executed air-to-ground engagements while returning fire, repulsing an enemy assault less than 150 meters away.
Staff Sgt. Daniel P. Keller, a combat controller in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, receives the Air Force Cross, the nation’s second-highest medal for combat valor for his actions on an Afghanistan battlefield.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Vicky Spesard)
Keller then helped move 13 critically wounded casualties to a helicopter landing zone “under a hail of enemy fire,” the citation said. “When medical evacuation helicopters were unable to identify the landing zone, he sprinted to the center of the field, exposing himself to enemy fire in order to marshal in both aircraft and aid in loading causalities.”
As U.S. forces departed, Keller fought off a three-sided enemy attack by returning fire and passing enemy positions on to another joint terminal attack controller.
“His courage, quick actions and tactical expertise … under fire directly contributed to the survival of the 130 members of his assault force, including 31 wounded in action,” the citation concluded.
A Silver Star medal for the same operation was presented at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 6, 2019, to Air Force Staff Sgt. Pete Dinich, an active-duty pararescueman assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing.
Special Tactics is the Air Force and Air National Guard’s special operations cadre, leading personnel recovery, global access, precision-strike missions and battlefield medical care.
This article originally appeared on National Guard. Follow @USNationalGuard on Twitter.
A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.
“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”
Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.
Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.
“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.
Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.
Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.
“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.
“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.
Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.
During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.
“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.
That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.
“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.
The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.
That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.
As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.
The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.
“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
Hurtling toward the villain nation’s massive fortified Armageddon machine the hero-pilot has one chance, and one chance only, at hitting his target. Victory will mean one man will save his people, failure could mean a war that may lead to destruction of the planet. It is all or nothing, and this audacious attack could determine mankind’s survival.
This is just one example of art imitating air combat history in the new Hollywood blockbuster that hit theaters this past weekend and of nearly every previous film in the Star Wars series. Almost every intergalactic battle scene in the Star Wars films borrows heavily from actual air combat history. And if you are a fan of air combat history, some of the scenes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi may feel familiar.
Director Rian Johnson and the visual effects in The Last Jedi opened with a classic piece of air combat doctrine that has been seen many times in modern air combat. An attacking aircraft poses as performing one mission to deceive an enemy, act as a decoy and buy time before a secondary attack is launched. If this time-proven set of tactics sounds familiar, it is.
You may be recall the real-world tactics of “Wild Weasel” SAM suppression missions flown in Vietnam and Iraq. It may also bring memories of “Operation Bolo”, the audacious January 2, 1967 attack meant to destroy North Vietnam’s air force flown by USAF Colonel Robin Olds. Col. Olds’ F-4 Phantoms behaved like defenseless B-52 F-105 bombers over North Vietnam as decoys to lure enemy MiG-21s into attacking. When they did, Col. Olds’ fighters sprung their trap.
Another tactic shown in The Last Jedi was forcing an enemy, in this case the fictional First Order, to commit all of their air defense assets to an initial feint attack, thus revealing their sensors and depleting their ammunition before a larger, secondary attack is launched on the main objective. In the opening scene of The Last Jedi, one X-wing fighter distracts and delays the giant enemy First Order battle spacecraft until it can effectively fly inside and below its defenses, then opens an initial attack, suppressing defenses and paving the way for the main rebel attack force.
Visual effects throughout The Last Jedi include inspiration from real world air combat of every era and from other air combat movies. It’s widely known that Luke Skywalker’s strike mission against the Death Star in the original Star Wars, where he pilots his X-wing fighter down a narrow mechanical canyon for a precision strike on the gigantic Death Star, was inspired in part by the 1964 Walter Grauman and Cecil Ford film about WWII Royal Air Force Mosquito pilots, “633 Squadron.” The cockpit of the Millennium Falcon spacecraft was inspired to the WWII B-29 bomber.
It is also rumored that George Lucas may have had inspiration from either visiting or seeing images from low flying training areas like the Mach Loop in Wales and especially the now-famous R-2508 complex now referred to even by the military as either the “Jedi Transition” or “Star Wars canyon” in Death Valley, California just outside the Nellis Test and Training Range.
Despite Director Rian Johnson’s often accurate inspirations from air and space combat, he does take liberal license with physics and reality in the The Last Jedi. Gravity is selective in the film. Gravity bombs fall down in space where there is no gravity. Spacecrafts fly in a symmetrical up and down orientation nonexistent in space, and combatants pass from space with no atmosphere into pressurized spacecraft.
Some of the characters in The Last Jedi need a refresher from their officer training as well, as specific orders from commanders are executed selectively- and often disobeyed entirely. In the real world that offense that would lead flight officers a stint in the brig- look at how much hot water Iceman and Goose got themselves into in Top Gun just for buzzing the tower. Further departure from reality is seen with the gun-like weapons (as well as the above mentioned gravity bombs) used in place of long range stand-off weapons.
But at the risk of being that annoying guy in the theater pointing out technical inaccuracies, these are the elements of fiction that separate meaty fantasy from the admittedly more accurate, and “dryer” plot lines of, for instance, a Tom Clancy story unfolding in a more rigid version of the real world.
Rian Johnson must have watched plenty of video of F-22 Raptor and Sukhoi Su-35 displays since the opening space-combat sequence in The Last Jedi shows X-Wing combat pilot Poe Dameron execute a very Sukhoi-esque horizontal tail slide to evade a pair of attacking First Order fighters.
The cockpits in the X-Wing fighters are a mix of new technology including advanced weapons sights and side stick controls and old tech like toggle switches that somehow seem more visually dramatic to flip than using a touchscreen like the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Speaking of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its advanced onboard situational awareness and networking system, the BB-8 droid that accompanies X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron on his missions is really a mix of the F-35s advanced avionics including the Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL), the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). These systems run aircraft diagnostics, keep the pilot informed about the aircraft health and tactical environment and help facilitate communications and systems operation through several command systems, in the case of the BB-8 droid on the X-Wing fighter, mostly using voice actuation.
Finally, if the large rebel bomber formation in the stunning opening battle scene in The Last Jedi feels visually familiar then you may liken it to footage and tales from the mass WWII bomber attacks over Germany and Japan by the allies, especially B-17 and B-24 strikes over Germany. The lumbering, mostly defenseless bomber stream attacks in tight formation under cover from X-Wing fighter escort, and suffers heavy losses. The bombers even feature a ball gun turret at the bottom of the spacecraft exactly like the one under a B-17 Flying Fortress.
Ball turret gunner Paige Tico becomes one of the first sacrificial heroes of The Last Jedi when she risks her life to release a huge stick of bombs in the last-ditch bomb run by the only surviving bomber in the opening attack on the First Order spacecraft. Paige Tico’s sister, Rose Tico, goes on to become a predominant hero of the film after she loses her sister in the heroic opening bombing raid.
You may also sense that the giant First Order Dreadnought Mandator-IV-class warship in “The Last Jedi” felt familiar. Design supervisor for The Last Jedi, Kevin Jenkins, revealed that inspiration for the Dreadnought warship came from several sources that included the WWII Japanese battleship Yamato. The Dreadnought was armed with two enormous orbital autocannons for large-scale bombardments and 24 point-defense remotely aimed anti-aircraft cannons on its dorsal surface. Dreadnought is also an enormous space gunnery platform at 7,669 meters long, that is more than 25,162.8 feet in length. Imagine a strategic attack space aircraft five miles long.
All great fiction, including science fiction, is rooted in inspiration from the factual world, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi borrows significantly from the real world of air combat technology, tactics and history to weave a thrilling and visually sensational experience. In this way this film, and in fact, the entire Star Wars franchise, lives as a fitting and inspiring ode to air combat past, present and future and serves to inspire tomorrow’s real-world Jedi warriors.
A U.S. Air ForceHH-60 Pave Hawk slammed into a steel cable in western Iraq in March 2018, causing the helicopter to tangle and crash, killing all seven airmen on board, according to a new investigation report.
An Accident Investigation Board report released Oct. 29, 2018, says the Pave Hawk, assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, was part of a two-aircraft formation flying toward Al Qaim, Iraq, on March 15, 2018. The mission objective was to position a helicopter landing zone closer to ground operations, according to the document.
During the flight, the formation refueled from an HC-130 King recovery aircraft. Then, roughly 40 minutes into the night operation, for which “night illumination for the flight was low,” the mishap Pave Hawk, flying in the lead, overshot its targeted landing area, the report states.
It was too dark for night-vision goggles to detect the cables.
The HH-60G “erroneously overflew the intended [helicopter landing zone] and descended to low altitude,” the report states. “As a result, the aircraft descended into an unplanned location, striking a 3/8-inch diameter galvanized steel cable strung horizontally between two 341-foot-high towers.”
Images within the report show the cables to be part of a powerline structure. The towers were roughly 1,000 yards apart.
An HC-130P/N Combat King and an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter simulate an in-flight refueling during the Aerospace and Arizona Days air show here March 20, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alesia Goosic)
The co-pilot turned left to avoid one of the towers. But a helicopter blade “struck the second of four” of the 3/8 inch cables, the report said. “The cable quickly entangled in the HH-60G’s main rotor assembly, resulting in catastrophic damage and an unflyable condition.”
The investigation, conducted by Brig. Gen. Bryan P. Radliff, concluded the pilot “misinterpreted aircraft navigation displays,” causing the formation to overfly the intended destination.
Communication on the helicopter’s route and scheduled waypoints was never resolved between the crew and a Joint Terminal Attack Controller on the ground, Radliff said.
“The [mishap pilot] was interrupted multiple times during his navigation duties, including communications with the [mishap wingmen] regarding landing zone plan changes and [mishap crew] requests for prelanding power calculations and JTAC information requests,” the report states.
The conversation continued as the JTAC reiterated that there were towers in the area, but the Pave Hawk was already slightly northeast of the designated landing spot, according to an illustrated diagram in the accident report.
Follow-on waypoints had been incorporated into flight plan as backups should the formation need to divert and land elsewhere. The report says those waypoints could have been the reason the pilot began flying slightly farther north than planned.
The helicopter was traveling at an estimated 125 knots, or about 144 miles per hour, at an altitude between 250 and 270 feet above ground level.
Having witnessed the crash and the illumination from the helicopter’s impact, the second aircraft was able to spot the cables and divert. The second crew called in search-and-rescue forces immediately, the report said.
A U.S. HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin O’Shea)
Radliff said limited visibility also contributed to the crash. Current HH-60G “tactics, techniques and procedures contain a warning stating, ‘electric power lines, unlit towers, poles, antennas, dead trees, and all types of wires are extremely difficult to see while conducting NVG operations,’ ” the report states.
The Pave Hawk has a “wire strike protection system” in an effort to prevent such accidents. Radliff said the post-crash analysis determined “it was not effective because it does not appear that the cable had the opportunity to be pulled through any of the WSPS wire cutters.”
Killed in the crash were: Master Sgt. Christopher J. Raguso, 39, a special missions aviation flight engineer; Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, an HH-60G pilot; Capt. Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, an HH-60G pilot; and Staff Sgt. Dashan J. Briggs, 30, a special missions aviation flight engineer, all of whom belonged to the 106th Rescue Wing at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, according to a Saturday news release. The rescue wing is based on Long Island.
Master Sgt. William R. Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl P. Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, belonged to the 308th Rescue Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. The squadron, known as an Air Force’s “Guardian Angel” personnel and recovery unit, is part of the Air Force Reserve’s 920th Rescue Wing.
Also killed was Capt. Mark K. Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Weber was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
The US has developed a secret missile to kill terrorists in precision strikes without harming civilians nearby, and it has already proven its worth in the field, The Wall Street Journal reported on May 9, 2019, citing more than a dozen current and former US officials.
The R9X is a modified version of the Hellfire missile. Instead of exploding, the weapon uses sheer force to kill its target. “To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” The Journal wrote.
What makes the weapon especially deadly is that it carries six long blades that extend outward just before impact, shredding anything in its path. The R9X is nicknamed “The Flying Ginsu,” a reference to a type of high-quality chef’s knife.
The missile, which can tear through cars and buildings, is also called “The Ninja Bomb.”
Development reportedly began in 2011 as an attempt to reduce civilian casualties in the war on terror, especially as extremists regularly used noncombatants as human shields. A conventional missile such as the Hellfire explodes, creating a deadly blast radius and turning objects into lethal shrapnel. That’s why it’s suitable for destroying vehicles or killing a number of enemy combatants who are in close proximity, while the R9X is best for targeting individuals.
The weapon is “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties,” one official told reporters.
The US military has used the weapon only a few times, officials told The Journal, revealing that this missile has been used in operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. For example, the RX9 was used in January 2019 to kill Jamal al-Badawi, who was accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
The USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba on Oct. 29, 2000.
(DoD photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes)
While the Obama administration emphasized the need to reduce civilian casualties, the Trump administration appears to have made this less of a priority. In March 2019, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama-era transparency initiative that required public reports on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
Officials told The Journal that highlighting the new missile’s existence, something they argue should have been done a long time ago, shows that the US is committed to reducing civilian casualties.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.