A 10th Mountain Division squad leader credited with saving the lives of three of his soldiers by throwing himself atop a suicide bomber in Iraq will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced March 12, 2019.
Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins went above and beyond the call of duty on June 1, 2007, while his unit — Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team — conducted route clearance southwest of Baghdad.
During the mission, Atkins, 31, of Bozeman, Montana, heard a report over the radio of suspected insurgents crossing an intersection in the Iraqi town of Abu Samak.
As the truck commander in his Humvee, Atkins ordered the driver to pull the vehicle up to the intersection so they could interdict the suspected insurgents. Once stopped, Atkins exited the vehicle and approached one of the men to check him for weapons while another soldier covered him.
When Atkins attempted to search him, the man resisted. Atkins then engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the insurgent, who was reaching for an explosive vest under his clothing, according to an award citation.
Atkins then grabbed the suicide bomber from behind with a bear hug and slammed him onto the ground, away from his soldiers. As he pinned the insurgent to the ground, the bomb detonated.
Atkins was mortally wounded by the blast. With complete disregard for his own safety, he had used his own body as a shield to protect his fellow soldiers from injury. They were only feet away.
Soon after, another insurgent was fatally shot by one of Atkins’ soldiers before he could detonate another suicide vest.
For his actions, Atkins was initially given the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross. Now that award has been upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
President Donald J. Trump will present the medal to Atkins’ family on March 27, 2019.
Before he joined the Army, Atkins worked for concrete and painting contractors and as an engine mechanic in Montana. He enlisted into the infantry in 2000 and less than three years later he deployed to participate in the invasion of Iraq.
Then-Sgt. Travis Atkins poses with battle buddies in Iraq, 2007.
Atkins left the Army in late 2003, but rejoined two years later and was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.
He deployed to Iraq again with the division in the summer of 2006 and became a staff sergeant in May 2007, a month before his death.
At Fort Drum, New York, the division honored Atkins by naming a fitness center after him in 2013.
During the dedication ceremony, then-Sgt. Aaron Hall, who was Atkins’ battle buddy, described the staff sergeant as a “quiet professional” who always had the respect of others.
“When my 4-year-old son Travis tells me his favorite superhero is Captain America and asks me who my favorite superhero is, my reply always has and will be Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins,” Hall said.
According to his obituary, Atkins was also known to hunt, fish, camp, and ride snowmobiles. His first love, though, was his son, Trevor Oliver, who was 11 years old at the time of his father’s death.
Atkins was buried June 12, 2007, in his hometown of Bozeman in south-central Montana. He is also survived by his parents, Jack and Elaine Atkins.
A dramatic rescue of a little girl trapped by ISIS gunfire was captured Friday on video.
David Eubank, a former Special Forces soldier-turned-aid worker, was filmed as he ran out in the open amid ISIS sniper fire to rescue the girl as two other men covered him with rifle fire.
“I thought, ‘If I die doing this, my wife and kids would understand,” Eubank told the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Times, Eubank’s dramatic rescue played out on a street in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where ISIS snipers were firing at civilians that were attempting to flee. Wearing only a t-shirt, bulletproof vest, and helmet, Eubank is seen running out into the street approximately 150 yards where he picks up the girl and brings her back safely behind a tank.
Eubank, 56, served for a decade with the US Army Special Forces. After leaving the military, he founded an aid group called the Free Burma Rangers, which seeks to bring “hope and love to people in the conflict zones of Burma, Iraq, and Sudan,” according to its website.
North Korea fired a missile over Japan’s Hokkaido province in the early morning hours of August 29, and the early figures coming out from the launch indicate it could have been a warm up for similar action toward the US territory of Guam.
North Korea has expressed vitriolic anger over US and South Korean war games throughout the month of August. It culminated in the announcement of a plan to fire missiles toward Guam, where the US keeps nuclear-capable bombers and some 7,000 military personnel.
The launch August 29 overflew Japan and traveled almost 1,700 miles before crashing down into the sea, hitting a high point of about 340 miles over land. Japan has previously said it would shoot down any missiles headed toward its territory, but this one simply flew over. The missile launch coincides with the completion of Northern Viper, a joint US-Japanese military drill in Hokkaido.
Specifically, North Korea threatened to fire four Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan into the waters just about 20 miles short of Guam.
Experts contacted by Business Insider said it would be unlikely that North Korea could pull off such a feat with a missile that has only been tested once successfully. Furthermore, doubts remain about North Korea’s ability to create a warhead that can survive reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
But even if the launch ends up having been another missile, or not intended to sure up capabilities headed for a shot toward Guam, the violation of Japan’s sovereign air space will likely demand a response. And US and Japanese policymakers may look to shoot down further tests if they travel the same route.
The general overseeing fitness for the U.S. Army hopes to see the proposed Army Combat Readiness Test approved next spring and, in time, become the service’s standard physical fitness test of record that all soldiers must pass.
The service is in the middle of the Army Combat Readiness Test, or ACRT, pilot, exposing soldiers to the six-event fitness test designed to better prepare them for the rigors of combat than the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.
The ACRT was developed, at the request of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, to better prepare soldiers for the physical challenges of the service’s Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — the list of key skills all soldiers are taught to survive in combat.
“As we look at physical fitness, we now know in order to be physically fit in support of the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — what we know we need to do for combat readiness — we have to be physically fit across five fitness domains,” said Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who oversees the ARCT as commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training.
Only two of those domains — cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance — are supported by the current APFT, which consist of push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run, Frost said.
“There are three domains of physical fitness that are not addressed by that test but are nonetheless necessary … and those are muscular strength, explosive power, and speed and agility,” he said.
‘We Aren’t Where We Want to Be’
“We have world-class equipment … but do we have world-class soldiers that are world-class athletes at world-class level fitness? The answer is probably not one that we would want, meaning if you look at a lot of indicators from an individual physical readiness fitness standpoint, we aren’t where we want to be,” Frost said.
In 2016, the Army had 43,000 soldiers who were non-deployable, he said, adding that in fiscal terms, that equates to a loss of about $3 billion.
“Another staggering figure,” Frost said, is that about 78,000 soldiers were above a body-mass index of 30 percent.
“Musculoskeletal injuries about 500,000 a year; 10 million limited-duty days per year — that’s nearly $1 billion,” Frost said.
“To put it in fiscal terms is fine, but more importantly it is the lack of readiness due to some sort of physical fitness or readiness aspect — whether it’s injury, whether it’s being overweight or whether it is being non-deployable for a medical reason,” he said.
The ACRT is made up of six events:
This muscular strength test mimics movements required to safely and effectively lift heavy loads from the ground, then jump, bound and tolerate landing. The exercise is a strong predictor of a soldier’s ability to lift and carry a casualty on a litter and to lift and move personnel and equipment.
Standing Power Throw:
Soldiers toss a 10-pound ball backward as far as possible to test muscular explosive power that may be needed to lift themselves or a fellow soldier over an obstacle or to move rapidly across uneven terrain.
In this event, soldiers start in the prone position and do a traditional push-up but, when at the down position, they move their arms outward and then back in to do another push-up. It is a test of soldier’s ability to push an opponent away during man-to-man contact, push a vehicle when it is stuck, and push up from cover or off the ground during evade and maneuver.
As they dash 25 meters five times up and down a lane, soldiers will perform sprints, drag a sled weighing 90 pounds, and then hand-carry two 40-pound kettle bell weights. This can simulate pulling a battle buddy out of harm’s way, moving quickly to take cover, or carrying ammunition to a fighting position or vehicle.
Similar to a pull-up, soldiers lift their legs up and down to touch their knees or thighs to their elbows as many times as they can. This exercise strengthens the core muscles since it doubles the amount of force required compared to a traditional sit-up.
This is the same running event as on the current APFT. In the ACRT, run scores are expected to be a bit slower due to all the other strenuous activity.
Part of the ACRT pilot, which is expected to continue into 2018, is working out how leaders will administer the six-event tests.
“Part of the challenge is if we are going to do six events, there is a scope and scale challenge to this — you can’t take a week to test a battalion,” Frost said. “You have got to be able to move a company through at the same pace you move a company through to do the APFT.”
There is also the challenge of figuring out the correct sequence to the events, he said.
“We have been able to test 50 soldiers in 75 minutes using 10 lanes, so this is doable; it’s executable with the right equipment,” Frost said.
The plan, he said, is to present the data collected so far in the pilot to Milley “in the next couple of months” and hopefully get a decision to move forward.
If approved, program officials will finalize the test protocol and other details before going back to Milley sometime next spring for final approval to start rolling the ACRT out in 2019 so soldiers can start training for it, Frost said.
“There has got to be a transition period,” Frost said. “You have to give them time to ramp up to it.”
Soldier Performance Training Centers
As a simultaneous effort, he said, the Army will launch a pilot program next year to develop “soldier performance training centers,” which feature the right equipment and resources to help soldiers prepare for the ACRT.
The plan is to put these centers in gyms at three installations and staff them with experts such as trainers, physical therapists and nutrition counselors. Eventually, centers would be established all over the Army, Frost said.
The centers will also need equipment for soldiers to train for the ACRT — pull-up bars, sleds for dragging weight, deadlift bars, weights and medicine balls.
A battalion set of this equipment to create 10 test lanes retails for about $12,000, but the Army will likely be able to get equipment for less, Frost said.
“If we buy this at scale, it will be much, much, much less, and a lot of this equipment is already out there so we have to kind of inventory what we have and then figure out what the need is,” he said.
“And that doesn’t mean every battalion is going to get it,” Frost said. “You may have a brigade set and every battalion is not going to take the ACRT on the same day, so there are a lot of things we can look at.”
But there has to be a transition period before the ACRT can replace the APFT as the test of record, Frost said.
“Whether it is one year or two years, you train on one test — the other test is a test of record; maybe there is a transition period where both of them can be a test of record,” he said. “And eventually, you fade the APFT out — kind of like you did the gray PT uniform — and then the ACRT is the enduring test of record.”
There also has to be time for the Army to figure out the policy, legal and administrative factors involved with instituting a new test of record since there will be punitive and administrative measures that occur for soldiers who are not able to pass it.
“We are going to need feedback from the field, but my gut tells me before it becomes the test of record, it’s probably two years — so one year to train for it. Another year, maybe it could be a test of record maybe as an option with the APFT,” Frost said. “Then at the end of two years, the APFT is faded away, and the ACRT is the only test of record.”
Since Russia’s incursion in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014, the US and its NATO partners have worked to reverse the drawdown of forces that took place in the decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“After the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, everybody, including the United States, had hoped for this period of partnership with Russia and a significant reduction in the threat of a conflict. It really was a lot of optimism,” said Ben Hodges, a former Army lieutenant general who led the US Army in Europe between 2013 and his retirement in 2017.
“But also one of the side effects was that everybody began to significantly disarm, including the United States,” Hodges said.
The tendency to reduce forces after a conflict is “understandable,” Hodges said. “The problem with that is because there was a widespread belief that Russia was going to be a partner, that we could start disassembling a lot of the infrastructure that was needed” for military operations in Europe.
Polish Brig. Gen. Jaroslaw Gromadzinski, left, and Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army Europe, at Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Jan. 31, 2017.
(US Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)
The US Army alone saw its presence in Europe fall from about 300,000 troops during the Cold War to about 30,000 today. Bases were shuttered, and units were withdrawn or deactivated. In early 2013, the Army pulled its last 22 Abrams tanks from Europe, ending its 69-year run of having main battle tanks on the continent.
“So that left us with no armor force in Europe, and then of course … the maintenance and sustainment and all the things that are required to keep armored vehicles functioning was also dismantled,” said Hodges, who is now the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
But the absence of armor was short-lived. In January 2014 — two months before Crimea was annexed — 29 upgraded Abrams tanks returned to Germany to be part of a pre-positioned equipment set for use in training areas there and across Europe.
A Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle completes an uncontested wet-gap crossing near Chełmno, Poland, June 2, 2018.
(US Army photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)
Since April 2014, land forces on the continent have taken part in Operation Atlantic Resolve , which the US Army in Europe has led “by conducting continuous, enhanced multinational training and security cooperation activities with allies and partners in eastern Europe.”
The US and its NATO partners have focused on redeveloping many of the capabilities they had during the Cold War — “so increased artillery and air interaction, maneuver, river crossings, all of these things,” Hodges said.
The change in focus “started under the Obama administration, after the Wales summit and in the Warsaw summit, where the alliance said we’ve got to transition to a deterrence posture vs. just assurance,” Hodges said, referring to NATO meetings in the UK in late 2014 and in Poland in summer 2016.
“So that meant increasing capabilities and capacities and regaining some of … what we call joint and combined warfighting skills that we used to have.”
Tanks, helicopters, and logistical units have all returned to Europe over the past four years, carrying out scores of joint exercises along NATO’s eastern flank. The Army has also launched nine-month, back-to-back rotations of armored brigade combat teams.
US Army vehicles conduct a tactical road march in Germany during Combined Resolve X, April 22, 2018.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sharon Matthias)
“We no longer have an armored brigade in Europe, so we have to depend on the rotational brigade, and so you had to relearn how to maneuver, which by the way we used to do back during the Cold War quite a bit,” Hodges said.
“In Iraq and Afghanistan, [for] everything we were doing you had individuals or units come over and fall in on the equipment that’s already in place,” he added. “So this is a different [approach.] We’ve had to practice the deployment.”
A NATO internal report seen by German news outlet Der Spiegel at the end of 2017 found that the alliance’s ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe had “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.” NATO forces would be unable to move troops fast enough and lacked sufficient officers and supplies in Europe, the report said.
NATO’s bureaucratic and logistical obstacles were highlighted in January 2017, when a convoy of US Army Paladin self-propelled howitzers traveling from Poland to southern Germany was stopped by German border police because the Polish contractors transporting them did not have the proper paperwork and had violated several regulations.
Locals in Nachod, Czechia, watch US Army vehicles cross the Czech-Polish border en route to Lithuania during Exercise Saber Strike 18, May 30, 2018.
(US Army Reserve photo by Capt. Jeku Arce)
Over the past year, NATO has made a number of organizational and operational changes to address these problems.
The NATO internal report recommended setting up two new commands to streamline military operations. One would oversee operations in the Atlantic Ocean , supporting the movement of personnel and material. The other would manage logistical operations on the ground in Europe, facilitating movements across an alliance that has grown considerably since the Cold War.
The latter, called Joint Sustainment and Enabling Command, was approved in June 2018 by NATO defense ministers. German officials have already said it would be based in the southern German city of Ulm.
“This command is going to be responsible for the rapid reception and responsiveness and reinforcement of NATO forces to the eastern flank, or anywhere, actually,” Hodges said.
Germany’s location and transportation capacity makes it the ideal location for the command, Hodges added, calling it an “important step to improve our ability to not just move, but to reinforce and to further develop the logistics infrastructure that’s needed.”
M1A2 Abrams tanks and other military vehicles are unloaded at the port in Bremerhaven, Germany, Jan. 6, 2017.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke)
“Some people have asked me, ‘Well, didn’t we do this for like 40 years during the Cold War?’ and the answer is yes, we did, except it was all in West Germany,” Hodges said.
“So the inter-German border was as far east as we had to go. Now with the alliance including the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, the distance to go from our main logistical hub in central Germany to Estonia, for example, is the same thing as going from St. Louis to Bangor, Maine,” he said. “So it’s huge challenge logistically, and the infrastructure has got to be further developed to enable that.”
Several recent “firsts” for NATO forces in Europe illustrate that renewed focus on mobility.
US Army vehicles, including M1 Abrams tanks and Paladin self-propelled howitzers offload in Gdansk, Poland, Sept.14, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jacob A. McDonald)
When that unit disembarked in Gdansk, it was “the first time two armored brigades transition[ed] within the European theater, sending a full complement of soldiers and equipment into Germany and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” a US Army spokesman said at the time.
The 2nd ABCT also finished its nine-month stint with a first. In late April 2018, the unit carried out a tactical road march with over 700 vehicles on public roads between the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in southeast Germany — the first time the exercise has been done at the brigade level in 15 years.
A few weeks later, the next force arriving for a nine-month rotation in Europe — the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team from the 1st Cavalry Division — disembarked at the port of Antwerp in Belgium, across the continent from its base in Germany.
“Sometimes what is old is new again, and that is coming in here,” Maj. Gen. Steven Shapiro, head of 21st Theater Sustainment Command, said at the time. “Antwerp and Rotterdam were major ports when we were operating during the Cold War … We are coming back to Antwerp in a big way.”
A US soldier guides an M1 Abrams tank off a ship at the port of Antwerp, Belgium, May 20, 2018.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jacob A. McDonald)
NATO began adding ports to its repertoire about three years ago, Hodges said, and doing so had several benefits.
“One was to reestablish capabilities in all these ports, because the port labor force, they had to relearn how to unload Abrams tanks and helicopters and all, so we needed them to get back in the game, and we also frankly wanted to demonstrate that we could come in in a variety of different places,” he said.
“We’ve focused on Bremerhaven” in Germany, Hodges added.
“That would obviously communicate a vulnerability to the Russians or other potential adversaries, so we’ve used Gdansk. We’ve used Bremerhaven. We’ve used Klaipeda in Lithuania. We’ve used Thessaloniki and Alexandropulis in Greece, and Constanta in Romania,” he said. “Back in the Cold War, Antwerp and Rotterdam were important ports for us, and so I’m glad to see that US Army has touched that one again.”
But obstacles to NATO’s ability to move around Europe are still largely political, and it will require political action to resolve them, Hodges noted.
Latvians view US Marine Corps HMMWVs during an event demonstrating military vehicles and gear involved in Exercise Saber Strike, in Liepaja, Latvia, May 30, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Adwin Esters)
“The ultimate way that this improvement in military mobility will happen is through cooperation and coordination between NATO and the European Union,” he said.
The EU has the right infrastructure — roads, bridges, and railways — as well as the mechanisms to encourage members to act and to apportion resources for them to do so. Hodges pointed to the EU’s recent formation of Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, for defense and security issues.
Identifying what needs to be done and what is needed to do it will still take time, however.
“This is just like a highway project in the States,” Hodges added. “This is going to take a lot of time in Europe, but at least now it feels like all of the nations have grasped the significance of it, and when you’ve got at the top level of NATO and the European Union addressing that … that’s encouraging.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There was only one foreign customer for the advanced F-14 Tomcat fighter during its heyday: Iran. The Shah chose to buy 80 Tomcats instead of the F-15 Eagle – and it was a good investment. Even after Imperial Iran gave way to the Islamic Republic of Iran after the 1979 revolution, the Iranian Air Force was still stacked with some of the best Tomcat pilots in the world.
And the U.S. doesn’t want any of them in the air again ever.
Iran is the United States’ ex-girlfriend that we just can’t stop thinking about. After the Islamic Revolution, the U.S. could just not leave Iran alone. A major sticking point for the United States was that our ex still had 30 of our best fighter aircraft, and they were using it to great effect against our new boo, Iraq, in the Iran-Iraq War. The Iranian Air Force was so skilled in the Iran-Iraq War that a lone tomcat could clear the skies of enemy aircraft without firing a shot. Many of the successful downings of Tomcats were at the hands of ground-based SAM batteries… Iranian SAM batteries.
But the United States eventually gets better stuff, no matter how iconic Top Gun is. Since the Tomcat, we’ve had the major advances in fighter technology that led us to develop the F-22 and F-35 fighters, technology so amazing it might seem like magic to some. So it made sense to retire our fleet of F-14s in 2007, given that we had an air superiority fighter that had the radar cross-section of a bumblebee and could take out enemy planes before it could physically see them. When Iran got wind of its retirement, you could practically hear the CEO of Northrop Grumman’s tummy growling at the idea of parts sales.
But nope. This was 2007 and Iran was still firmly placed in President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” along with North Korea. The idea of selling Iran rare F-14 parts, so it didn’t have to cannibalize its own F-14 inventory was preposterous. It was this concern that led the Pentagon to shred every last leftover F-14 Tomcat.
Did the United States have to take a million plane and reduce it to scrap metal just so Iran couldn’t repair its aging fleet? No, according to many national security experts, it did not. They said the move was more symbolic than practical. F-14 parts were considered sensitive equipment just for this reason, so the U.S. ended all parts sales to anyone, not just Iran, for fear that Iran might get them eventually. But that doesn’t matter, there isn’t much Iran could do with their F-14s if they were airworthy.
“Those planes as they age are maybe the equivalent of Chevrolets in Cuba. They become relics of a past era,” said Larry C. Johnson, a former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the State Department in President George H.W. Bush’s administration. “Even if they can put them in the air, they are going to face more advanced weapons systems.”
The decision to destroy all the surplus Tomcats was the defense equivalent of taking the house and the car despite not needing or wanting either – a purely spiteful move that makes Tomcat fans wish they would have just donated to museums.
The struggle is real brothers and sisters. You’ve been indoctrinated, but are now in the civilian world trying to figure out how to apply all of your skills, experiences, and structure to a seemingly impossibly chaotic world.
I wasn’t the best Marine, and I’ll be the first to admit that. I had long hair, I traveled on my own often, and I ignored most liberty restrictions. I told my E-dogs to stop saluting me, and I was constantly planning my next move after the Corps.
As far as I was concerned, I drank the least Kool-aid of anyone I knew.
I’m in there somewhere plotting my next move.
(Courtesy of one of the citizens of MOUT town)
After nearly five years of service, I was out and grateful. Grateful for everything I learned in the military, but also grateful that I could finally become the person I thought I was meant to be. There was one problem, though…
I was paralyzed by fear. Fear of failure, fear of making the wrong choice, fear of wasting time, fear of being an imposter veteran/adult/man. Fear that all of a sudden, my safety net was gone, and I was actually on my own. I had been on the government’s teat for a decade–I signed my first paperwork when I was 17 and was given the opportunity to go to college before active duty started.
I had bought into the culture of the military more than I ever realized. I feared for my future, because I knew it would never resemble my past.
Not me, but the point stands. The older you get, the more your body makes you pay for a night like this.
My first move involved scheduling every waking moment of my day.
Mind you, I was living in Bali at this point with a nice nest egg saved, so the expectation was that I would chill and decompress.
That was not f*cking happening though. I was stressed and lost. So I scheduled when I would wake up, work out, surf–I even scheduled naps. I needed structure. I wound myself up tighter than I had ever been while on active duty.
I was stressed, with no “daddy” to tell me what to do.
Eventually, I came undone and decided to relive my early 20’s, the years I had “missed.” It turns out I cannot handle alcohol or late nights partying like I could when I was 18 (err, I mean 21).
Hungover, happy, sad, or crying: I’m in there when it’s on the schedule.
(My phone and tripod)
That period didn’t last long. It was like a flash flood: it swept in, destroyed a lot, and was gone before I could ever move to higher ground.
Maybe that sounds familiar too?
Through the whole figuring-it-out phase, I had one practice that kept me sane and somewhat grounded: my training.
I never stopped training. I didn’t know what I was training for, I just knew I had to keep training.
Nothing better to teach the lessons of the world than a heavy barbell.
It turns out I was training for the day-to-day enemy. I just didn’t know it.
While on active duty, I spent a fair amount of time in the Philippines “training” with the Filipino military. They have terrorists in their backyard literally, so it was interesting to watch how they operate with the fight so close to home.
One day they were sitting in a briefing with me talking theory and best practices. The next day they were two-ish islands away in the jungle, their backyard, engaged in a firefight with terrorists. They had to be at the ready at a moment’s notice.
This is not something that U.S. military personnel can relate to easily. We have big, grand deployments with all the bells and whistles, halfway around the world in countries we would never otherwise visit. The enemy is far removed from the homeland. There are no terrorists in Pennsylvania; we are not used to an enemy constantly at the gates, like our Filipino counterparts are.
They have to be ready every single day, at any time, for the very real threats that are so close to home.
U.S. and Filipino forces training together in the Philippines. One of these guys is training, one is prepping for next week.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Courtney G. White)
Learning a daily cycle
So who are the enemies for us veterans?
With my military issued umbrella gone, I was opened up to a deluge of enemies in my own backyard. Even on a tropical paradise, I had to confront fears that never left my side. They come with me everywhere.
It takes an approach like that of the Filipino military to keep close-at-hand fears and inadequacies from crushing us into a debilitating depression.
The real world doesn’t give us a pre-deployment plan to prepare and train us to combat feelings of inadequacy. There is no doctrine written with step-by-step directions on how to troubleshoot imposter syndrome.
We are now like the gladiators of ancient Rome. We have to train for all possible contingencies and hope that our daily practices will allow us to walk out of the Colosseum of the day.
I keep my blade sharp, my rifle clean, and my mind clear through my daily practices. My training area is the gym. These tools have helped me find balance.
Take off your tin-foil hats for a second, because sometimes an insane-sounding conspiracy theory actually turns out to be true. From the government making up an enemy attack to justify war to “mind control” experiments, some stories are hard to believe until declassified documents or investigations prove they actually happened.
Here are five of the wildest former conspiracy theories we found:
1. The US Navy fired on North Vietnamese torpedo boats that weren’t even there.
On the night of Aug. 4, 1965, the USS Maddox engaged against hostile North Vietnamese torpedo boats following an unprovoked attack. The only problem: there were no torpedo boats. Or attack. The Maddox fired at nothing, but the incident was used as a justification to further escalate the conflict in Vietnam.
Others who were present, including James Stockdale (a Navy pilot who would later receive the Medal of Honor), disputed the official account:
“I had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there … There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.”
Even LBJ wasn’t convinced: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”
2. The FBI infiltrated, surveilled, and tried to discredit American political groups it deemed “subversive.”
When it wasn’t investigating crimes and trying to put people in jail, the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Director J. Edgar Hoover kept busy trying to suppress the spread of communism in the United States. Under a secret program called COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program), the FBI harassed numerous political groups and turned many of its members completely paranoid.
Though they could never be sure, many activists suspected the FBI was watching them. And the Bureau was able to mess with groups it didn’t like and influence what they did.
Under COINTELPRO, FBI agents infiltrated political groups and spread rumors that loyal members were the real infiltrators. They tried to get targets fired from their jobs, and they tried to break up the targets’ marriages. They published deliberately inflammatory literature in the names of the organizations they wanted to discredit, and they drove wedges between groups that might otherwise be allied. In Baltimore, the FBI’s operatives in the Black Panther Party were instructed to denounce Students for a Democratic Society as “a cowardly, honky group” who wanted to exploit the Panthers by giving them all the violent, dangerous “dirty work.” The operation was apparently successful: In August 1969, just five months after the initial instructions went out, the Baltimore FBI reported that the local Panther branch had ordered its members not to associate with SDS members or attend any SDS events.
It wasn’t only communist or left-leaning organizations. The FBI’s list of targets included the Civil Rights movement, and public enemy number one was Dr. Martin Luther King. Agents bugged his hotel rooms, followed him, tried to break up his marriage, and at one point, even sent him an anonymous letter trying to get him to commit suicide.
It would’ve been just a whacky conspiracy theory from a bunch of paranoid leftists that no one would’ve believed. But the conspiracy theorists — a group of eight anti-war activists — broke into an FBI field office in 1971 and found a trove of documents that exposed the program.
3. U.S. military leaders had a plan to kill innocent people and blame it all on Cuba.
Sitting just 90 miles from the Florida coast and considered a serious threat during Cold War, communist Cuba under its leader Fidel Castro was a problem for the United States. The U.S. tried to oust Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, but the operation failed. So the generals went back to the drawing board and came up with an unbelievable plan called Operation Northwoods.
The plans had the written approval of all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and were presented to President Kennedy’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, in March 1962. But they apparently were rejected by the civilian leadership and have gone undisclosed for nearly 40 years.
“These were Joint Chiefs of Staff documents. The reason these were held secret for so long is the Joint Chiefs never wanted to give these up because they were so embarrassing,” Bamford told ABCNEWS.com.
What were the “embarrassing” plans? Well, there were ideas for lobbing mortars into Guantanamo naval base, in addition to blowing up some of the aircraft or ammunition there. Then there was another idea floated to blow up a ship in its harbor. But these were rather timid compared to other plans that came later in a top secret paper:
“We could develop a Communist Cuba terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington … We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated) … Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”
The paper went on to describe in detail other plans for possibly hijacking or shooting down a “drone” airliner made to look like it was carrying civilian passengers, or faking a shoot-down of a U.S. Air Force jet over international waters to blame Cuba.
4. The CIA recruited top American journalists to spread propaganda in the media and gather intelligence.
Started in the 1950s amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency approached leading American journalists in an attempt to influence public opinion and gather intelligence. The program, called Operation Mockingbird, went on for nearly three decades.
Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.
The Church Committee exposed much of the program, with a full report from Congress stating: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.”
5. The CIA conducted “mind control” experiments on unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens, some of which were lethal.
Perhaps one of the most shocking conspiracy theories that turned out to be true was a CIA program called MKUltra, which had the stated goal of developing biological and chemical weapons capability during the Cold War, according to Gizmodo. But it ballooned into a larger program that encompassed research (via Today I Found Out):
which will promote the intoxicating affect of alcohol;
which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness;
which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so called “brain-washing;”
which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use;
[which will produce] shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use; and
which will produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
During the program, the CIA established front companies to work with more than 80 institutions, such as hospitals, prisons, and universities. With these partnerships in place, the agency then ran experiments on subjects using drugs, hypnosis, and verbal and physical abuse. At least two American deaths can be attributed to this program, according to the Church Committee.
Though the Church Committee uncovered much of this shocking program, many of the top secret files were ordered to be destroyed in 1973 by CIA Director Richard Helms.
For the first time ever, measurements from NASA Earth-observing research satellites are being used to help combat a potential outbreak of life-threatening cholera. Humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space.
“By joining up international expertise with those working on the ground, we have for the very first time used these sophisticated predictions to help save lives and prevent needless suffering for thousands of Yemenis,” said Charlotte Watts, chief scientist with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.
Cholera is a disease caused by consuming food or water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae. The disease affects millions of people every year, resulting in severe diarrhea and even death. It remains a major threat to global health, especially in developing countries, such as Yemen, where access to clean water is limited.
Starting this spring, the British government and international aid groups in Yemen began using these new cholera forecasts to target their work in reducing cholera risk. That work includes promoting good hygiene to prevent the spread of the water-borne disease and distributing hygiene and cholera treatment kits. The results to date suggest the forecast model has the potential to fundamentally change how the international community addresses cholera.
The research on forecasting cholera outbreaks funded by NASA’s Applied Sciences Program is being led by hydrologist and civil engineer Antar Jutla at West Virginia University, Morgantown, along with Rita Colwell and Anwar Huq, microbiologists from the University of Maryland, College Park.
The NASA forecast tool divides the entire country of Yemen into regions about the size of a typical U.S. county, and predicts the risk of cholera outbreaks in each region. To calculate the likelihood of an outbreak, the science team runs a computer model that combines satellite observations of environmental conditions that affect the cholera bacteria with information on sanitation and clean water infrastructure.
The predicted cholera risk based on analysis and satellite data in Yemen, June 2017. Blue color indicates low risk of cholera while red color indicates high risk of cholera.
The actual number of cholera cases in June 2017. The red area represent reported cholera cases.
In 2017, the model achieved 92 percent accuracy in predicting the regions where cholera was most likely to occur and spread in Yemen that year, even identifying inland areas that are not usually susceptible to the disease but suffered outbreaks. The Yemen cholera outbreak was the world’s worst in 2017, with more than 1.1 million suspected cases and more than 2,300 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
“The model has done an excellent job in Yemen detecting triggers of cholera outbreaks,” said Jutla, “but there is still a lot of work we need to do to have this forecast model give accurate predictions everywhere.”
International humanitarian organizations took notice. This January, Fergus McBean, a humanitarian adviser with the U.K.’s Department for International Development, read an article about the NASA-funded team’s 2017 results and contacted them with an ambitious challenge: to create and implement a cholera forecasting system for Yemen, in only four months.
“It was a race against the start of rainy season,” McBean said.
The U.S. researchers began working with U.K. Aid, the U.K. Met Office, and UNICEF on the innovative approach to using the model to inform cholera risk reduction in Yemen.
In March, one month ahead of the rainy season, the U.K. international development office began using the model’s forecasts. Early results show the science team’s model predictions, coupled with Met Office weather forecasts, are helping UNICEF and other aid groups target their response to where support is needed most.
“This ground-breaking initiative is a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary and multi-agency efforts to improve disease preparedness and response,” said John Haynes, program manager for health and air quality applications in NASA’s Earth Science Division, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
McBean believes in this new approach. “We are confident acting on the model’s predictions this year. We know that acting early is a more effective way of operating and is likely to result in a much better outcome for people.”
Colwell, who compared the 2017 Yemen results to passing the first stage of a three-stage drug trial and discovering the drug is saving the lives of a particular type of patient, said that the science team’s next step is to create global risk maps for cholera. In the same way meteorologists issue severe storms warnings, these risk maps and forecasts would allow people to prepare for and prevent outbreaks.
NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. Earth observations and information made possible by NASA form the foundation for critical environmental planning and decisions by people all over the world. The agency makes its Earth observations freely and openly available to those seeking solutions to important global issues.
Featured image: The United Nations Children’s Fund, with support from U.K. Aid, distributes clean water and information about cholera to prevent outbreaks of the disease in Yemen. Humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
Bob Hope’s support for our military was so prolific and enduring that he is one of only two civilians who have received honorary veteran status.
In 1997, Congress passed a measure to make Hope an honorary veteran of the U.S. military in recognition of his continued support for the troops. At the time, Hope was the only civilian to be recognized in such a way (he now shares the honor with philanthropist Zachary Fisher who, in 1999, would become the second honorary veteran).
He has so many accolades to his name that it’s nearly impossible to track, but these are some of our favorites:
1. He entertained the troops from 1941-1991
On May 6, 1941, he performed his first USO Show at March Field in Riverside, California, which was a radio show for the airmen stationed there. He went on to headline for the USO 57 times during more than 50 years of appearances, providing entertainment for the troops from World War II through the Persian Gulf War.
Letter from prisoner of war, Frederic Flom, written on back of wrapper, Feb. 24, 1973.
(Bob Hope Collection, Library of Congress)
2. He advocated for the release of POWs during the Vietnam War
During his 1971 Christmas tour, Hope met with a North Vietnamese official in Laos to try to secure the release of American POWs. When F-105 pilot Frederic Flom heard about this, it lifted his spirits and prompted him to write Mr. Hope a letter of thanks.
On his last day in office, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Bob Hope the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
The Bob Hope Veterans Support Program was launched in 2014 with a generous seed grant from The Bob Hope Legacy
3. His legacy continues to improve the lives of America’s military community
The Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program provides one-on-one employment services, as well as referrals to other resources, to meet the unique needs of military personnel and veterans transitioning out of the military into a civilian job, starting their own small business or pursuing higher education.
Since launching in 2014, the program has served nearly 1,100 veterans and families with employment support and referrals to other resources, placing more than 600 into civilian positions and 83 pursuing education degrees. Free to veterans, who do not need to have a disability to participate, the program was launched with a generous seed grant from The Bob Hope Legacy, a division of The Bob Dolores Hope Foundation, which supports organizations that bring HOPE to those in need and those who served to protect our nation consistent with the legacy of Bob Hope.
To date, The Bob Hope Legacy has donated more than million dollars in support of Easterseals’ military and veteran services.
During a week-long campaign in observation of Memorial Day this year (May 23-29), Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions shoppers throughout Southern California can make donations in support of the program via the pin pad at registers, with 100 percent of the donations going directly to Easterseals Southern California’s Bob Hope Veterans Support Program.
The new U.S. national security adviser has told Russia’s U.S. ambassador that Moscow must address U.S. concerns on election meddling, the “reckless” nerve-agent attack in Britain, and the situations in Ukraine and Syria before relations can substantially improve.
A White House statement on April 19, 2018, said John Bolton, who took over from H.R. McMaster on April 9, 2018, made the remarks in a meeting with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov.
“At the first meeting between the two in their current roles, they discussed the state of the relationships between the United States and Russia,” the statement said.
“Ambassador Bolton reiterated that it is in the interest of both the United States and Russia to have better relations, but that this will require addressing our concerns regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the reckless use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom, and the situations in Ukraine and Syria,” it added.
Several global issues have raised tensions between Washington and Moscow despite President Donald Trump’s stated goal of improving relations between the two countries.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of a widespread cyberhacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election vote.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
The United States and Europe have slapped sanctions on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. military has assailed Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and says it holds Moscow responsible for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
Meanwhile, the United States has said it supports Britain in a dispute with Russia over the March 4, 2018 poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. Britain has blamed Russia for the attack.
Moscow has denied it interfered in the U.S. election, said it had nothing to do with the Skripal poisonings, and claimed the allegations of a chemical attack in Syria are false.
The 69-year-old Bolton, a former UN ambassador, has served as a hawkish voice in Republican foreign-policy circles for decades. Among his more controversial stands, he has advocated for preemptive military strikes against North Korea and war with Iran.
A Royal Air Force Reaper MQ9A remote piloted aircraft interrupted a planned public execution that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attempted to carry out earlier this month, giving the would-be victims of the terrorist group a chance to escape.
According to a May 19, 2017 British Ministry of Defence release, the Reaper was over the Syrian village of Abu Kamal on May 9 when it noticed ISIS fighters gathering civilians in the village. When the crew saw that the ISIS fighters were removing two prisoners from a van, they chose to act.
Unable to directly target the would-be executioners due to the British rules of engagement that require the minimization of civilian casualties, the Reaper crew instead fired a single AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the roof of a building where two other ISIS terrorists were acting as sentries. The missile killed one of the tangos outright, and sent both the crowd of civilians and ISIS scrambling for cover.
The ultimate fate of the would-be victims is not known.
AmericanMilitaryNews.com reports that such executions are becoming more common as ISIS loses ground to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. ISIS was known for a series of beheading videos released since 2014, including one earlier this month of an alleged spy for Russia. A British subject, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” was one of the more notorious executioners until he was killed by a strike carried out by American and British UAVs.
According to the RAF’s web site, the British Reaper MQ9A, which is assigned to XIII Squadron, 39 Squadron, and 54 Squadron, is usually armed with four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. The MQ-9 is also used by the United States Air Force, the Italian Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, French Air Force, and United States Customs and Border Protection.