This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he's telling the story​ - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

In 2007 I was a fresh-out-to-pasture journalist, trying not to lose my sanity as an Army wife and stay at home mom. I had worked most recently as a reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, but my husband, a Special Forces soldier, kept getting deployed. We couldn’t afford a nanny, and no daycare in town stayed open late enough to watch our son until I could get off work.


The Observer offered me an opportunity to write a blog and two weekly columns from home, and that’s how I came to meet Mike Giglio, a fresh-out-of-college writer for Charlotte Magazine, working on a story about military families at Ft. Bragg.

Giglio has written a book now, “Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate” – an open wound of a book, as raw and bleeding as the conflict itself.

But back in 2007, he came to my house, sat in my living room, made the requisite comments about the adorableness of my toddler, and interviewed me. He has since told me that I was the first person he had interviewed about war. He has interviewed many, many more people since. He wrote then:

Rebekah Sanderlin looks like an Army wife from a movie: the hero pulls out her picture in the opening scene, she has dark hair, engaging eyes, and a warm smile, she’s holding his kid, and you’re already hoping he makes it out of this thing alive.

12 years and as many deployments later, my husband and I are still married and, indeed, he appears to have made it out of this thing alive.

I followed Giglio’s career from a distance after that, watching as his byline hopped up to the big leagues and then across the ocean, first to London and then to Istanbul, and then right into the heart of war.

Now a journalist for The Atlantic, he spent four years living in Turkey and Syria, interviewing members of the Islamic State, their enablers, and legions of others who were pushing back against ISIS’ terror quest for power, embedding with U.S. military units as well as low-level groups of resistance fighters.
This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

(The Atlantic)

His book is part memoir, part chronicle. We see the early movements of ISIS in the form of sources and scoops that grow into defeats and victories. He is unflinching in the descriptions but avoids the war-porn tendencies lesser writers find irresistible. There are no heroes and no villains, only humans showing up, day after day. Characters come and go, lost to war and the swirling chaos of life. There are no neat and tidy endings. This is news – news never ends.

His sparse, direct, writing style is appropriately like chewing on broken glass. A book about ISIS shouldn’t be overwrought. There’s too much gore, too much horror, too much human misery, for a writer in love with adjectives. No one needs those adjectives.

Of an Iraqi Special Forces soldier, he writes:

“So when militiamen kidnapped Ahmed from a checkpoint in Baghdad one day, they didn’t just torture him. They put a circular saw to his forehead and tried to peel off his face. Then they put a hood over his head, shot him five times, and tossed his body in a garbage dump, thinking he was dead. Ahmed survived, though, and was found by an elderly man, who carried him to a hospital. When he recovered, he had gained his nickname – The Bullet, for what couldn’t kill him – and he returned to his turret.

These are not pages to read before bed.

Giglio is captured and nearly executed, and he survives being hit by a suicide bomber. He sets these encounters on the table, like an indifferent dinner party host, as if to say, “Here it is. Make of it what you will.” And, of course, there is only one thing to make of it: ISIS is even worse than you thought.

I read Mike’s book during the vacant, pedestrian, moments of my mom-life. Sitting in my daughter’s gymnastics class, reading about the young Syrian mother who watched helplessly as a wall collapsed on all four of her children during a bombing. In the front seat of my minivan, parked at the high school, waiting for that once-toddler-now-teenager, reading about a man whose seven siblings were all killed by ISIS. Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room while a friend’s wrist was being x-rayed, reading about ISIS fighters gathering body parts from numerous people into one duffel bag, only to leave the bag in the middle of a street.

I read about Mike, being zip-tied and beaten by a jeering mob in Egypt, before being thrown into a prison bus and carted to a sports arena, where sham trials and public executions were being held for political prisoners. And then the zip ties are cut from his wrists and he is inexplicably released. I think about the cub reporter I first met in my North Carolina living room, as eager for adventure as any young soldier.

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

He is in Iraq, embedded with a battalion from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTF) in Mosul when the results of the 2016 election are announced, and Americans of all political persuasions are melting down. He writes:

“I wondered if, when a country was at war for so long but only a select few ever waged it, the rest of society began to go a certain kind of crazy. Some played at civil war while others vowed to flee to Canada as political refugees, and too many Americans seemed to want to pull a bit of conflict into their lives just when so many people around the world were risking everything to escape from it.”

And then he finally escapes it himself, perhaps for good, writing this about then-new President Trump’s premature declaration of victory over ISIS: “As in the past, America was looking to move on from the region before the war was really over – leaving much of Iraq and Syria in ruins and ISIS still a threat. This was an impulse I embodied, too. As Colonel Arkan had once explained, the thing about going to war far from home is that you can always walk away from it.”

If you’re lucky, Mike. Only the lucky get to walk away.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Pentagon is designing rations just for grunts

U.S. military nutrition experts hope to start testing a new assault ration, known as the Close Combat Assault Ration, that is drastically lighter than existing field rations by 2020.

Ten years ago, the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding Directorate began fielding the First Strike Ration, which was designed to give combat troops the equivalent of three Meals, Ready to Eat a day in a compact, lightweight package.


At about two pounds, the FSR is about half the weight and size of three MREs.

Prototypes of the Close Combat Assault Ration weigh about as much as one MRE and take up about 75 percent less room as an equivalent number of individual meals inside a pack, according to Jeremy Whitsitt, deputy director of the CFD.

“It’s designed for those guys like Army Rangers, special ops guys, light infantry — guys that would potentially be in a mission scenario that would require them to carry multiple days of food, ammunition, water, other supplies, without the potential of being resupplied,” he told Military.com.

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika)

The idea of having a combat ration tailored to the needs of ground troops has been bounced around before. In 2016, Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, told industry professionals at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, that he was interested in developing an MRE specially designed for Marine grunts, who need the most nutrition at the lightest weight possible.

While the CCAR is still in prototype stage, it weighs about 1.5 pounds, Whitsitt said, explaining a process of vacuum microwave drying that shrinks the food by about 50 percent.

A sample CCAR menu contains a tart cherry nut bar, cheddar cheese bar, mocha dessert bar, vacuum-dried strawberries, trail mix of nuts and fruit, Korean barbeque stir fry packet, spinach quiche packet with four small quiches, French toast packet, and a banana that was vacuum microwave dried to about one-third of its original size, according to a recent Army press release.

The goal is to begin testing the CCAR in 2020 and fielding it to replace the FSR in 2023, Whitsitt said, adding that the CCAR will not replace the MRE, which will remain the primary field ration.

On a five-day mission, rather than “field-stripping 15 MREs and taking things that are easy to carry, they can take five of these Close Combat Assault Rations and still get 3,000 calories a day but have more room in their pack for more ammunition, more medical supplies, more water — things that will keep them in the fight longer,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why being in the field is still better than civilian camping

It’s an inevitability for every veteran once they’re out and making friends in the civilian world. Eventually, you’ll hear about one of your of new friend’s grandiose plan to go out into nature for the weekend to go camping with family and friends.

In my personal opinion, one of the weirdest questions civilians ask with the best of intentions is, “when you were in the Army, did you guys ever go camping?” This question is met with laughter — sorry, can’t help it.

Of course we went out into the middle of f*ckin’ nowhere and set up a camp, but it’s hard to describe the amount of suck that comes with being in the field without sounding like you’re conjuring up some kind of story to scare the civilians.


But, despite all the obvious drawbacks of being in the field, civilian camping just doesn’t hold a candle up against our experiences. They might have comfortable sleeping bags and marshmallows and heated blankets, but here’s where they can’t compete:

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

On the other hand, if they believe that it’s not going to rain in the field… they’re an idiot.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

1. You only take what you need

It’s kind of hard to feel like you’re going out to test your survival skills when most civilian campers pack enough gear to qualify their tent as a three-star resort.

When you’re getting ready to go to the field, your platoon will give you a specific packing list… which will immediately get tossed aside in favor of bringing the essentials. You know someone’s got experience when they decide to scrap the four different versions of wet weather gear in favor of a single rain poncho to save a bit more room for more changes of uniform.

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

It may seem like busy work, but it’s actually very valuable for the next reason…

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Skovo)

2. You’re doing something at all hours of the day

Shy of hunting or fishing trips, which are usually just called hunting or fishing trips, you’re not really doing much when you go camping. Yeah, you might go hiking during the day and sit by a bonfire, roasting marshmallows at night, but that’s about it.

In the field, you’re actually trying to accomplish something. Even if it’s something lame, like protecting an area from the fictional Atropian militia, at least you have an agenda that your platoon is sticking to.

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

You learn valuable things in the field, like creating an impromptu shelter, immediate casualty care, and how to clear a room using live ammunition. Only two of those skills are taught by the Boy Scouts.

(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Scott Walters, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)

3. You actually learn things

While there are countless books and instructional videos on how to go out into the wilderness and become “one with nature.” Most people, however, opt to forego scavenging up some edible flora in favor of the vacuum-sealed trail mix in their pocket.

Troops, on the other hand, have their platoon sergeant, who is usually a wellspring of information on the subject of survival. They’re out to teach troops how to do things. You come back having learned something.

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

…the operative word here being “special.”

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Leynard Kyle Plazo)

4. You’re with your platoon

Civilians pick their camping buddies based almost entirely around who will be the most fun to have around for an entire weekend — which makes a whole lot of sense when the goal is to have a good time.

The platoon, however, is structured in a way that ensures everyone has a specific purpose for being there — whether it’s the platoon sergeant who leads the unit, the medic who takes care of any medical issues, or the privates who do most of the manual labor. Everyone’s useful in their own special way!

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

I’d still take this any day over roasting marshmallows outside of a cabin.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ammon W. Carter, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Combat Camera)

5. You’re objectively more of a badass

When civilians pack up their campsite and return to work the following Monday, their coworkers will usually respond to camping stories with an, “oh man, that sounds like fun! I should go next time!” They’ll regale friends with funny stories and re-tell some choice jokes.

Tell them about your time spent in the field and you’ll get a different response. How does getting stuck in the rain for an entire week, eating nothing but MREs and stale mermite eggs, getting lost in the middle of f*ckin’ nowhere for a few hours because our Lt. thought he saw the land nav marker, having to sleep in a half-shelter that was poorly made at 0400 out of a poncho, and getting bit and stung by god knows how many bugs sound to you? It might not have been the best of times, but your story will certainly turn some heads.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A pilot describes his role in the historic Berlin Airlift

Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.

With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.


More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.

Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.

The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.

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German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.

(National Archive photo)

Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.

“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.

However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.

“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.

On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.

Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”

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Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.

He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.

“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”

The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.

“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”

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Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(US Air Force photo)

When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.

It never came.

The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.

The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.

Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.

Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.

“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”

The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”

Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.

Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.

“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.

“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”

Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.

Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.

By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.

“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”

Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”

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During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.

(US Air Force photo)

One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.

Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.

The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.

Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.

It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”

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Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.

(US Air Force photo)

Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.

He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.

Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.

“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”

Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.

Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.

That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.

Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.

“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.

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Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.

(US Air Force photo)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you should know about the Tuskegee Airmen

The name rings bells. It’s got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I’m sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.

The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can’t tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.


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One of the first defenders of the Tuskegee Airmen

(Image courtesy of OnThisDay.com)

Thurgood Marshall

Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall? Yes, that Thurgood Marshall. Before you go off saying he wasn’t a Tuskegee Airmen, you have to consider his tie to them. While he was a young lawyer, he represented 100 black officers who were charged with mutiny after entering a club that was then considered off-limits to them.

He would eventually get them all released.

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The photo that opened many doors.

(Image courtesy of RedTail.org)

Eleanor Roosevelt

The Tuskegee Airmen came to during an age of segregated America. While the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Tuskegee experiment as it was then known, was great it still lacked the prerequisite respect and support.

It wasn’t until a visit from FLOTUS Eleanor Roosevelt that support would begin to flow in. Photo and film from a flight around the field would be the push needed to get the support to really come in.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

(Image courtesy of AF.mil)

Generalmaker

Three different members, or graduates, of the Tuskegee experiment, went on to become Generals. The first was Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. He was the first commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first Black General of the U.S. Air Force.

Daniel “Chapple” James was appointed brigadier general by Richard Nixon and also went on to become a General. The last, Lucius Theus, would retire at the rank of Major General after a 36-year career.

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Batting a thousand..

Perfect record

The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They wound up being the only fighter group to achieve and maintain a perfect record protecting bombers.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 reasons why 24-hour duty isn’t as bad as troops make it out to be

A sense of dread washes over the company as the most recent version of the duty roster gets posted in the common area. The troops shuffle toward the single piece of paper while crossing their fingers, hoping that their name hasn’t been called. But alas, a poor, unfortunate soul gets stuck with duty next Tuesday and, upon learning that, their day is cast to ruin.

Sound familiar? Troops tend to over-dramatize the “horrors” of getting stuck on staff duty every single time the duty roster goes up. But why? Seriously? You’re being put at a desk for 24-hours and told to maintain the area. Once that timer is done, the next shift comes in to replace you and you’re done for the day.

I guess it can feel like you have all eyes on you if you’re at Battalion or higher, but barracks CQ is the most skate job ever. Your only real job is to not fall asleep — and yet, for some odd reason, everyone has sympathy for you.


Here’s why it’s not as bad as everyone makes it sound:

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​You might have to deal with one or two people coming in, but that’s about it.

(U.S. Army)

1. You don’t really do anything

The officer handles the occasional phone calls, the NCO walks about the area once or twice, and the lower enlisted mops the hallways. That’s about the extent of a normal staff duty shift.

Yes, there’s the off-chance that a situation arises. If it does? You, as the staff duty, are just going to log it and let the chain of command handle the ramifications.

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And you’re not going to be doing any major cleaning. That police call is done by everyone else.

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Lee Hyokang)

2. You clean once and it stays clean until it’s the next guy’s problem

Officers and NCOs don’t complain about staff duty as much. They’ve either realized how sweet of a gig it actually is or they’re holding it together for professionalism’s sake. The ones who moan the loudest are the lower enlisted — but as we mentioned earlier, they just have to clean up a bit and… that’s it.

The good thing about cleaning is that it’s almost always expected to be done at night when there’s little chance that anyone will come in and disrupt the cleanliness. So, you just sweep and mop the floors and probably take the trash out. How terrible.

The best thing about cleaning is that it only has to be done once, and then it usually stays clean until it becomes the next guy’s problem. It’s not like your entire 24-hour shift is spent cleaning.

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They may have to pretend if someone signs out on leave, but don’t take it personally.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace)

3. Your duty officer or NCO will become human again

At about 0200, when no one else is around, the normally-salty leaders drop their tough-guy act for a little while and relax with the lower enlisted.

When they’ve got nothing better to do, they’ll open up about when they were a young, dumb private or share stories about when they were deployed. Enjoy it. The moment the commander checks in early, the stoic facade is back in full swing.

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Even the big wigs have to sleep. But when they’re awake… You might want to look busy.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew Jones)

4. You can study… or play video games, or read, or watch tv, or…

Everyone is asleep after midnight. You might run into someone trying to sign out on leave, but there’s not a single soul to check up on you. So, do whatever you want — as long as you stay in the area.

I’ve seen people bring entire gaming setups to barracks CQ and without anyone batting an eye. You can’t leave, but if you give a heads up to the NCO or officer with you, you can probably get away with a trip to the gas station or something.

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Meanwhile, they’ve probably learned to sleep with their eyes open.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, U.S. Army Japan)

5. You might be able to swing a nap between 0100 and 0530. 

The most daunting thing about staff duty is that you’re expected to remain awake the entire time. It’s problem up to around midnight but the, like a normal person, the drowsiness settles in big-time at about 0200.

Remember the part above about how probably nobody will check in on you between 0100 and the time the commander shows up? Let the officer or NCO you’re with know that you’re about to rack out for a quick nap and, if they’re cool with you, they’ll probably come up with some excuse as to why you’re not currently present if necessary.

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“Give this to those poor, hardworking troops on Staff Duty. They’re working their asses off trying not to sleep…”

(U.S. Navy photo by Lieutenant junior grade Rob Kunzig)

6. You aren’t even really screwed on Holidays

The worst time to get stuck on staff duty is over a holiday, especially when it would have otherwise been a day off for you. But there’s a silver lining here: Everyone takes extreme pity on you. If your chain of command likes you, they might even swing an extra comp day your way to make it up to you.

Remember the story about when Secretary of Defense Mattis was still in the Corps and he relieved from young Marine for Christmas staff duty? That happens more often than you’d think. I, personally, have been screwed out of leave packets and ended up on four consecutive Independence Day duties. Each time, the Colonel came in with something to relieve “the pain” of staff duty.

It’s a nice change of pace.

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“It’s time to get back to what’s important in life… Doing nothing…”

(U.S. Army photo)

7. You get that sweet, sweet comp day

When the next guy shows up, you’re free for an entire 24 hours. It’s expected that you’ll be catching up on sleep, but nobody wants to screw up their circadian rhythm, so you’ll probably just take it easy.

If you’re truly a part of the E-4 Mafia or Lance Cpl. Underground, you’ll try to sweet-talk someone into giving you their Thursday duty, which means you have a free three-day weekend. Not so bad for a couple hours of cleaning, right?

Humor

11 hand salutes that are just plain bad

We greet superior officers, pay homage to the American flag, and show respect to fallen comrades by rendering the powerful, non-verbal gesture known as the hand salute.


Though there’s no real written record of how or where the worldwide tradition started, saluting dates back in history to a time when troops would raise their right hand (their weapon hand) as a signal of friendship.

Today, recruits learn how to properly hand salute in boot camp and demonstrate the act countless times before heading out to active service. After a while, muscle memory kicks in and the gesture becomes second nature. But many civilians use the salute as a form of celebration — and they get it so, so wrong.

Related: 5 awful military haircuts that would fail inspection

1. When Michael Cutler, son of a truck-driving arm wrestler, returns home from military school. (Over the Top)

2. That time Cousin Eddie felt super patriotic during Christmas. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

3. Some dude watching wrestling and drinking a beer. (USA Network)

4. After that former TV president gave a motivational speech. (House of Cards)

5. No clue where this is from, but it’s funny as hell.

Also read: 7 ways you know you’re an officer

6. When that little kid who turned out to be Darth Vader found out his dad was into superhero cosplay. (Jingle All the Way)

7. An unsat salute from a guy who once played a Marine in a movie. (Some award show on MTV)

8. So, we’re not exactly sure what she was trying to accomplish with her initial type of salute… but at least she ended it with a solid pointing performance.

9. At least Ms. Kaushtupper correctly mounted the American flag on the wall… (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Don’t forget: 5 common movie mistakes veterans can spot right away

10. Even though his salute is off, it’s still pretty funny. (M*A*S*H)

11. There’s nothing wrong with this troop’s salute, but Dmitry Medvedev epically failed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what it’s like to live in an ISIS-controlled Hellhole

RAND Corporation senior policy researcher Shelly Culbertson is an expert on the Middle East. Her new report, “Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS” details the steps Iraq and its international allies must take to rebuild in ISIS’ wake.


She revealed to Business Insider what life was like for the civilian population in Mosul, when the second largest Iraqi city was under ISIS control. Following is a transcript of the video.

Shelly Culbertson: ISIS took over the entire city government when they came to Mosul. So, they took over leadership of all of the ministries, they took over property management, utilities management, and so forth.

The economy didn’t entirely shut down under ISIS, actually, satellite photos can show truck transportation in and out of the city showing fairly robust trade during that time.

But nonetheless, there were a lot of challenges and changes under ISIS.

Religious mores became much stricter, social controls and so forth. But many aspects of city life continued on, even though they were continuing in a much more minimal state.

There was a lot of significant damage, in particular in the beginning, in power, water, schools, hospitals.

Just taking the case of education — when ISIS came in, they instantly closed all of the schools, and then they reopened them shortly thereafter, but with a new ISIS curriculum.

And the curriculum that they introduced was pretty indoctrinating. It was very much intolerant of minorities, it taught jihad education at age 6, it taught math problems, word problems for elementary school students, through calculating numbers of people you could kill with explosives.

That became very harsh over time. A lot of parents took their children out of school. And families fled.

So, over time, about a million kids studied this indoctrinating ISIS curriculum, and that is going to be one of the biggest challenges going forward, and rebuilding and repairing Iraq.

A million kids studied this, and getting them back into school with a healthier, much more tolerant curriculum will be an important step.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Israel releases details of documents captured in a spy raid in Iran

Israel has revealed new details of how its spy agency smuggled out nuclear documents from Iran in early 2018, although the material does not appear to provide evidence that Iran failed to fulfill its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.


The information reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post on July 15, 2018, shed more light on the Mossad operation in January 2018 but offered few other details beyond what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in April 2018 when he announced the results of the raid.

Netanyahu claimed Israeli intelligence seized 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program dating back to 2003. Iran maintains the entire collection is fraudulent.

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President Donald Trump

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

After his announcement in late April 2018, the Israeli leader gave U.S. President Donald Trump a briefing at the White House and argued it was another reason Trump should abandon the 2015 nuclear deal.

In May 2018, Trump withdrew from the deal.

Tehran has always claimed its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes.

The New York Times reported on July 15, 2018, that Mossad agents had six hours and 29 minutes to break into a nuclear facility in the Iranian capital, Tehran, before the guards arrived in the morning.

In that time, they infiltrated the facility, disabled alarms, and unlocked safes to extract the secret documents before leaving undetected.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

GoRuck: Inside the seriously grueling challenge run by Special Forces soldiers

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton/Released)


After he parked and got out of his car, he didn’t introduce himself or offer any welcome. The unnamed instructor just said, “okay everybody get over here and sign your death waivers.”

This was my first introduction to a GoRuck Challenge, a team endurance event run by former U.S. military special operators. It was the 83rd challenge to take place in Dec. 2011 — running around Tampa, Fla. with 24 people. Since then, it’s grown to more than 2,500 events that now comprise various skill levels.

GoRuck Challenges usually attract a certain demographic of people: Former military personnel, law enforcement, and fitness enthusiasts. Especially with the ominous intro from our instructor, a former Green Beret, anyone taking part in a GoRuck event knows it will be rough, to say the least.

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Members of the 97th Air Mobility Wing carry a telephone pole across the base in a GORUCK Light challenge, Oct. 18, 2014. The team carried the pole from the south end of the flight line to the track. The Airmen completed the challenges as a team while carrying weighted rucksacks or backpacks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class J. Zuriel Lee/Released)

“We want to promote the sport of rucking,” Kit Klein, partnership manager for GoRuck based in Jacksonville, Fla., told The Tampa Bay Times. “We’re trying to put it on the map.”

The “sport of rucking” that GoRuck promotes now consists of “GoRuck Light,” a four to five hour challenge that covers seven to 10 miles, “GoRuck Tough,” a 10 to 12-hour challenge covering 15 to 20 miles, and “GoRuck Heavy,” a much more demanding 24-hour-plus challenge that can cover more than 40 miles.

But those times and distances can vary, as one of the company’s mottos is to “under-promise, over-deliver.” (For the GoRuck Tough challenge I was on in Tampa, we did roughly 23 miles over 15 hours).

“Your class is led from start to finish by a Special Operations Cadre whose job is to build a team by pushing you to overcome, together,” reads the description of the challenges on the GoRuck website. “You stay with your class the entire time aka a true team event, never in any way confused with a road race or a mud run. And no, your Cadre is not a drill sergeant and no, this is not bootcamp. That stuff belongs to the military, this is simply an event about your team.”

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Benjamin Evers, Air Force Personnel Center Outdoor Recreation operations specialist, hold the United States flag July 12, 2014, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Evers held the flag for participants while they performed challenges and obstacles during the GORUCK Light/Team Cohesion Challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton/Released)

Founding GoRuck

All of the challenges require participants to carry around weights or bricks in a backpack, which is why these events exist in the first place.

In 2008, GoRuck was a new company making rugged backpacks designed to withstand the rigors of military combat. Founded by former Special Forces soldier Jason McCarthy, he sent his bags to friends in the field to test out and he quickly realized selling backpacks may not be his only business.

From Men’s Journal:

McCarthy spent two years developing the bags that make up most of GoRuck’s product line (four styles, starting at $195). Early on, he battle-tested his prototypes, literally – sending them to Green Beret buddies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he grew concerned about sending unproven gear to men in danger, so he established another proving ground: the GoRuck Challenge. In these team-oriented endurance runs, which are led by combat veterans and incorporate Special Forces training, participants carry a GoRuck sack loaded with rocks or bricks.

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Part of the class from GoRuck Tough Challenge 083 in the water in Tampa, Fla on Dec. 10, 2011. (Photo: Paul Szoldra/WATM)

“The original intent was very nearsighted,” McCarthy told The Cincinnatti Enquirer of starting his first challenges. “I had a bunch of inventory and wanted people to know about our bags.”

People did learn of GoRuck, and more: “People kept describing this as a life-changing event,” McCarthy told the Enquirer. “I got more and more and more requests to host events.”

An Iraq war veteran, McCarthy began the events in 2010 while attending business school at Georgetown University, according to The Washington Post. Beyond marketing his bags, he told The Post, his goal is “to build better Americans” with his challenges. He does this by promoting leadership, teamwork, and honoring the sacrifices of military service members.

“It’s spiritual, emotional experience they take away,” Derek Zahler, a GoRuck cadre and former Special Forces soldier, told News4Jax. “They get to learn a lot more about themselves. Especially their goals and what they perceive their ability to achieve those goals are.”

The company has moved beyond backpacks and challenging events, however. It now sells apparel, fitness items, and even firearms gear, which it developed in 2014. In that year, the company had $10.8 million in revenue — nearly 30 percent more than the previous year’s figures.

Check out more on GoRuck at its website here.

OR READ: The definitive guide to US Special Ops

MIGHTY CULTURE

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.


Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.

Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.

“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.

The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veterans who worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASH staff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.

Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?

“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homeless were able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.

Recover, heal, grow

The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.

He’s the proof he inspires in others.

To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.

To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

The Navy just developed invisible armor that is easy to fix

When most people think armor, they think of thick steel, ceramic or Kevlar. It stops (or mitigates) the harm that incoming rounds can do, but there’s one big problem: You can’t see a friggin’ thing if you’re behind it.


This is no a small problem. Put it this way, in “Clausewitzian Friction and Future War,” Erich Hartmann, who scored 352 kills in World War II, was reported to have believed that 80 percent of his victims never knew he was there. Project Red Baron, also known as the Ault Report, backed that assessment up based on engagements in the Vietnam War.

Bulletproof glass exists, but it can be heavy. When it is hit, though, the impact looks a lot like your windshield after it catches a rock kicked up by an 18-wheeler on the interstate.

That also applies in firefights on the ground – and according to a FoxNews.com report, the Navy has made it a little easier to maintain situational awareness while still being able to stop a bullet. The report notes that the Navy’s new armor, based on thermoplastic elastomers, still maintains its transparency despite being hit by bullets.

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Current bullet-resistant glass after ballistic tests during the IDET 2007 fair in Brno. The good news is the bullets were stopped. The bad news: You can’t see through the window. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In a Department of Defense release, Dr. Mike Roland said, “Because of the dissipative properties of the elastomer, the damage due to a projectile strike is limited to the impact locus. This means that the affect on visibility is almost inconsequential, and multi-hit protection is achieved.”

That is not the only benefit of this new armor. This new material can also be repaired in the field very quickly using nothing more than a hot plate like that used to cook Ramen noodles in a dorm room – or in the barracks.

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Photo: YouTube/CrashZone

“Heating the material above the softening point, around 100 degrees Celsius, melts the small crystallites, enabling the fracture surfaces to meld together and reform via diffusion,” Dr. Roland explained.

Not only will this capability save money by avoid the need to have replacement armor available, this also helps reduce the logistical burden on the supply chain, particularly in remote operating locations that were very common in Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it was like to land behind enemy lines in a glider on D-Day

D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.

Ninety-seven-year-old Millcreek, Utah, resident John “Jack” Whipple piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.


Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Whipple was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion.

“When we came over Utah Beach we received some ground fire,” said Whipple. “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”

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Horsa Glider

Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers. The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and two or three soldiers.

Whipple’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, four soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15,000 pounds.

After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone.

“The quicker the better,” said Whipple. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 to 4 minutes.”

To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old.

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Jack Whipple, 1944

“The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves,” Whipple recalled. When we got there, the trees were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”

Losing altitude, Whipple picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Whipple points out, was authorized.

“We landed, didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment,” he said.

At this point, his role shifted.

“Glider pilots did the flying, and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.” Whipple said.

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Troops aboard a Horsa glider

“We landed behind enemy lines. We had about perhaps five or six Horsa gliders. We got together after landing and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”

The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion.

“It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Whipple, squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”

And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines. Whipple flew two additional combat glider missions—one in Holland and the final one as part of the Rhine Crossing.

After returning from the war, he earned his private pilot license, and flew all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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