Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

In the parking lot of the National Guard armory, a soldier reaches into his glove box and carefully unfolds a letter safeguarded in the confines of his car for five months. Sitting on the edge of his passenger seat, in the late afternoon sun, he begins to read the pages once again. At first, he reads silently as if wanting to keep the special message private. Then, in little more than a whisper, he reads out loud the sentiments of a woman he has never met but whose life he would be responsible for saving. Occasionally, he looks up to explain a bit more about the woman behind the precious missive. While he reads, the front of the envelope can be seen addressed to ‘My Donor.’ One glance at the top of the first page, clearly written in very large print is an emphatic, ‘Thank you.


A member of the Texas Army National Guard, Spc. Akeem Martin, a 23-year-old from Houston, says he is no hero, “I am just doing what is right.” The journey to the right thing started nearly five years ago when he was an 18-year-old freshman at Central Texas College. Martin recalls, “I really didn’t think about it, we were going to lunch one day and they [Be The Match] were having a drive, giving away pizza and I signed up, they took a mouth swab and that was the last time I heard anything.” Shaking his head he continues, “then last year… I got a call from Be The Match saying that I had been matched with a person with leukemia and asking would I like to donate for them.”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

Member of the Texas Army National Guard, Spc. Akeem Martin.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Suzanne Ringle)

Martin could have said no, but that is not in his character. “Because I signed up for it, just like any other commitment you make, you did the paperwork you said you were gonna do it, so…” Martin leaves the statement hanging as if the conclusion is obvious: you do what you say and say what you do; no more discussion needed. This attitude serves him well in both his military and civilian careers.

Martin has been a firefighter for two years with the South Montgomery County Fire Department. In the Texas Army National Guard, he is a chaplain’s assistant deployed to the southwest border for Joint Task Force Guardian Support with El Paso-based, 3rd Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment. As the chaplain’s assistant he gets many opportunities to counsel service members and help on an emotional level. “These Guardsmen have lives going on back home, and life happens every day. I am just glad I can help,” Martin says.

The letter

Just before deploying, Martin received the letter. “I keep the letter in my car, it was really touching. I guess I was waiting to meet her,” he says. “I got the letter and then I came on mission a couple of weeks later. I didn’t get a chance to write her back.”

When LaShonda Goines, a cancer nurse from Houston, Texas, wrote that letter four months after being diagnosed with two different forms of cancer, she knew for certain only two things; there was a perfect ten-out-of-ten match, and without a doubt, everything was going to be okay. “I never asked for the odds of survival, I would not accept them anyways. I just knew that God was going to bring me out of this. I knew I was going to beat it,” said Goines.

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

Member of the Texas Army National Guard, Spc. Akeem Martin.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Suzanne Ringle)

In her letter to Martin, Goines wrote, “I rejoice in the fact that God did not break the mold after he made me because he knew you were needed to help with repairs to my body. He created you to be a perfect match to repair my malfunctions. In this journey, I have learned to appreciate life, I want to take trips and do things once my body is strong enough. I am a very religious person. Your cells are going to a good and generous person.” After reading the letter once again, Martin points to his heart and with an awkward giggle says, “this letter really hits you in the feels,” while he takes a little extra time refolding the letter. Goines conveys a similar sentiment when she learns Martin has kept the letter all these months. She responds with a voice full of emotion. “That’s got me in tears. Yes, I am surprised. I know my son would be like, ‘I don’t know where that letter is.’ I did not know that letter was that precious to him.”

Goines closed the letter with a hope and a prayer, “I want to meet you one day. Hug you one day, whenever we can, if you like. Be blessed my friend, my life-sharing brother.” Little did she know all that she dreamed would come to fruition, in less than a year.

The good news came over the phone just 30 days after receiving Martin’s stem cells. “I am cancer free. Hearing those words was awesome. I mean I ran through the church. I gave my testimony. It was something, absolutely unbelievable, especially being a cancer nurse. Listening to the other patients in the holding area waiting to be seen, you hear their stories, how some of them had tried transplant and it didn’t work for them and this is maybe their second go around. But for me, this was a one-shot deal and now, I am cancer free,” Goines’ smile can be heard through the phone.

Donor meets recipient

Martin and Goines were invited to meet for the first time in Minnesota at the annual Be The Match council meeting. Their first time meeting each other would be onstage in front of more than two thousand people.

“I can’t even describe how amazing that moment was, it was so precious,” says Martin. He attempts to describe the event, seemingly at a loss for words, shrugging his shoulders and says, “I was really anxious and super excited. I was just really happy to get to that point. Just seeing her and being able to say that we got to that point because she made it, she was a fighter, it was something really special.”

Goines was anxious to finally meet the young man who saved her life. “The event was awesome. They had us separated through the entire meeting until Saturday night, even when they played the video of both of us. They called me to the stage first, and they would not tell me where he was in the room. And so, to see him walk up to the stage with his mother, he just has this heroic walk. It was awesome. He has a very heroic and humble walk, he never bolstered or anything. He’s an amazing fellow.”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

Member of the Texas Army National Guard, Spc. Akeem Martin.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Suzanne Ringle)

When asked if they attributed the success of the transplant endeavor to just science or God, they had similar, but not identical, responses. Both have careers in the medical field and strong religious beliefs. Martin holds out his hands out as if making a scale for demonstration, “I have my religious background and I work in the medical field too. I feel like there is science and there is God, and they both work together.”

Goines praises God’s intervention, “God, this was nothing but divine intervention, divine intervention from God. Sitting in the room for 30-days doing my transplant I was crying out to God and this just shows me that God had his ear inclined to my cries.” Continuing she describes how special and lucky she felt, “I felt like I touched the hem of God’s garment and I was made whole again.”

Donor saves life

Few people can say they saved a life, but for Martin, saving lives is a reality, as a fireman and now as a stem cell donor. He says there is a uniquely strong bond between him and Goines, compared to other lives he has saved as a fireman. “I guess because we have such a bond now, when I met her it was like I’d known her my whole life, it was really weird. I met her sons as well and it was like we’ve been brothers forever. It was really something amazing.”

The special bond forged between the two gives each a bigger family. Without hesitation or searching for the words she would say to Martin, Goines exclaimed, “I got a new son out of this process. I want to tell him I love him and he’s an awesome human being and he needs to keep doing what he’s doing because God has bigger and better plans for him.”

The effects of this profound, life-changing match are clear, nearly 800 miles away, across the state of Texas, with one look at Martin’s cubicle inside the armory. The cubicle appears to be much like anyone’s cubicle. There are pictures of his family and another one of his fire truck, along with a cross and some obligatory notices and guidelines. There are two items quite unique and conspicuous amid the varying drab tones of tan, hanging proudly both inside and outside his partitions: two capes, one green the other blue, both emblazoned with the ‘Be The Match’ logo. Martin explains everyone gets the blue cape, but the green one is special for those donor-recipient matches that ended in saving a life.

Martin believes to care for others, you have to take yourself out of the equation. “When it comes down to saving a life, you should not think about yourself, there’s gonna be pain, you know everything good comes with a little pain. That little bit of pain goes a long way because there is someone whose life is really counting on you. Putting in a little work and a little pain will go a long way,” he says.

Goines went from a double cancer diagnosis to being cancer free in seven months because Martin decided to be a difference and saw it through. She says, “Sign up for Be The Match. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, Hispanic, just sign up.”

Martin says his firsthand experience doesn’t make him a hero, but did make him want to share his story. “It is really important to educate people on the ‘Be the Match’ program or any marrow donor program because it does save lives. It does make a difference,” he says.

Be The Match is a nonprofit international organization that matches stem cell and bone marrow donors with recipients inflicted with certain cancers. The matches are based, partly, on ethnicity, and more often than not the match will come from outside one’s family. To find out more visit bethematch.org.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Humor

The 13 funniest Veterans Day memes for 2017

Last week was a special week. The Marines had a birthday and we all stuffed our faces at the tactical thanksgiving America’s restaurant chains offer veterans every Veterans Day.


Let’s start Monday off with some fun by rounding up the best of this year’s Veterans Day memes.

You’re welcome for our service.

1. “Mom, I’ll take the trash out after I get back from Denny’s.” (via Decelerate Your Life)

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Walter White has seen some shit.

Also Read: These ax murders along the DMZ almost started another Korean War

2. Veterans haven’t been this vigilant since their last day in the military. (via Pop Smoke)

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

3. If he walks out on the bill, it’s not that much of a loss.

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Hopefully you can’t get abducted by the Taliban at Applebee’s.

4. Keep fighting the good fight. (via The Salty Soldier)

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
The mission continues.

5. “Who wants to volunteer to be on duty during the Marine Corps Ball?”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Guess which one of these guys asked Alexis Texas to the ball on YouTube.

6. Rolling into Hooters like:

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

7. Don’t they know I’m a veteran? (via Why I’m Not Re-Enlisting)

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

8. Oh Wait, Marine Corps birthday came first.

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
A meal that sticks to your ribs.

Related: 5 interesting facts about the Marine Corps birthday

9.  Where did he steal that book from? (via ASMDSS)

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
It’s not like there are pictures in it.

10. Don’t forget about other generations of veterans.

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Bert doesn’t want to talk about it.

11. In case you don’t know what to say:

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Most civilians are never face to face with greatness.

12. “Feel free to watch your step.”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Clean like the day America was born.

Totally unrelated but still cool: If the battle of Thermopylae was fought today with 300 Marines

13. “To TGI Friday’s I will go.”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

MIGHTY TRENDING

‘We’ve got the energy:’ Military doctors relieve worn-out staff in NYC hospitals

Military medical staff are departing underused Navy hospital ships and field medical centers to relieve overburdened civilian doctors in New York City’s hard-hit hospitals as the coronavirus crisis wears on.

“We’re a fresh face, we’ve got the energy and enthusiasm,” said Air Force Col. Jennifer Ratcliff, who has brought medical teams to Lincoln Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.


The staff there “are tired and have been working very, very long days and weeks,” said Ratcliff, commander of the 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

The Navy’s 1,000-bed hospital ship Comfort was sent to the city, arriving at Pier 90 in Manhattan on March 30, to take on the expected overflow of trauma patients from city hospitals as local doctors treated COVID-19 cases. But the patient flow has not materialized, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday.

“The strategy has changed,” he said. “We’re moving off the Comfort our doctors, a portion of our doctors, and putting them into New York City hospitals to provide relief.”

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

The USNS Comfort in New York.

Wikimedia Commons

He did not give the number of doctors being reassigned from the Comfort, but said a total of 2,100 military physicians, nurses and medical aides are now in the city and will be augmented soon by additional medical teams coming from the Army.

Ratcliff said the military reinforcements have been well-received.

“You can walk around the hospital and just see that the attendings and the residents are really happy to have us,” she added.

“We’re onboarding hospitals pretty much since we arrived,” Navy Capt. Joe Kochan said of the 1,100 volunteer doctors, nurses and medical aides from the reserves who deployed to the city last week.

“As it stands right now, we’re really pushing out into the hospitals to support their needs,” said Kochan, executive officer of the Operational Health Support Unit based at Portsmouth, Virginia.

When he announced the deployment of medical personnel into the city on April 5, Esper said about 300 would go to 11 city hospitals. It was unclear Tuesday whether that number had increased.

Kochan and Ratcliff joined Army Lt. Col. Leslie Curtis, chief nurse at the 9th Field Hospital out of Fort Hood, Texas, in a telephone conference from New York City to the Pentagon to stress the ongoing needs of the city despite the converted Javits Center and the Comfort being underused thus far.

In addition to the 1,100 medical personnel already deployed, the Army announced plans Monday to send more teams to the city.

Fifteen Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces will be deployed nationwide to assist cities in the fight against coronavirus, and four of those task forces, each consisting of 85 personnel, will be sent to New York City, the Army said.

The military has sought to adjust its efforts in New York City to the shifting requests coming from city and state authorities.

The original intent was to have the Comfort and a field medical facility at the Javits Convention Center treat non-COVID-19 patients to ease some of the burden on overcrowded local hospitals. But the demand to treat non-COVID patients did not emerge in a city on lockdown.

The city then asked that the Comfort and the Javits Center be used only for COVID-19 patients, and the military agreed, but bureaucratic and logistical problems hindered the transfer of patients.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F-%2Fmedia%2FImages%2FMHS%2FPhotos%2FBatman.ashx%3Fh%3D480%26la%3Den%26mw%3D720%26w%3D720%26hash%3D2E08810AFAE3E69E914F6D1D97E7812A67FCB82D47202D99259C74C115E27E2A&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fhealth.mil&s=760&h=fdadecb8cc145f9d2b6046cece76b40a6a6d1bec6f209988005b779ec40785ef&size=980x&c=2088113783 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F-%252Fmedia%252FImages%252FMHS%252FPhotos%252FBatman.ashx%253Fh%253D480%2526la%253Den%2526mw%253D720%2526w%253D720%2526hash%253D2E08810AFAE3E69E914F6D1D97E7812A67FCB82D47202D99259C74C115E27E2A%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fhealth.mil%26s%3D760%26h%3Dfdadecb8cc145f9d2b6046cece76b40a6a6d1bec6f209988005b779ec40785ef%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2088113783%22%7D” expand=1]

Military doctors conducting infectious diseases training in Panama in 2018.

Military Health System

COVID-19 patients first had to be taken to local hospitals to be screened, but the agreement now is to have ambulances take patients directly to the Javits Center or the Comfort.

As of Monday, about 320 patients were at the 1,500-bed capacity Javits Center. The last report Friday from the Pentagon on the Comfort said that there were more than 50 patients aboard the 1,000-bed ship.

Curtis, who has been working at the Javits Center, acknowledged the delays in bringing in patients. “First, we had to determine what the needs were,” she said. Then, the focus turned to “streamlining the bureaucracy, which everyone wants to do at every level.”

“Every day, we’re finding more ways,” she said. “I think this is moving in the right direction.

“We do want to do this. We have the ability to scale up to whatever the demands are, based on the needs of the city or any particular mission that is required,” Curtis added.

There has been speculation that the Comfort might be pulled out of New York City and sent elsewhere, but Ratcliff said she had seen no signs that the military’s efforts in the city would slacken.

“The city, I believe, still needs our assets,” she said. “I don’t think there’s talk of scaling that back but, again, we’ll do whatever the government of New York needs.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday described a city still in need of support despite continuing signs that new coronavirus cases had hit a plateau.

“We’re reducing the rate of infection,” he said. But another 778 deaths from coronavirus were recorded in the city Monday.

“That is terrible, terrible, terrible news,” he said.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Navy vet found a career as a Hollywood advisor and motocross competitor

Jacqueline Carrizosa is a Navy veteran who successfully leveraged her military experience into an exciting civilian career.


Her grit as a former rescue swimmer and gunner’s mate helped prepare her to become a tough motocross competitor and military advisor in Hollywood.

In this episode of the WATM Spotlight Series, Jackie tells us about her journey from rescue swimming to Hollywood during a photo shoot with photographer and former Marine Cedric Terrell.

When Jackie joined the Navy, she became a rescue swimmer while she was a gunner’s mate, starting with a class of thirty-two and graduating with twenty. She was the only woman in the class.

Being in the Navy gave her plenty of skills she’s carried over into civilian life. She has been a military advisor on several films, the most well-known of which was Battleship. Meanwhile, she now races motocross and is a full automatic machine gun instructor.

Modeling for motocross has been especially exciting; once again a woman in a predominantly male world, she’s expected to be girly while also having fun—and she’s certainly up for the challenge.

Editor’s Note: Carrizosa was recently injured while training for the Vegas to Reno ironman motorcycle race. She broke her back in two places and lost a kidney. Friends with the Veterans Training Fund have established a GoFundMe account to help with her medical bills.

MIGHTY TRENDING

10 places in the world where US influence has plummeted

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. became the sole superpower on the world stage, and was able to take advantage of the vast global influence it had amassed since the late 19th century.


But in recent years, this power has been fading.

From the South China Sea to the Middle East to Latin America, places where the U.S. once comfortably exerted its economic, military, and political power are slowly beginning to slip out of America’s grip, and often into China’s. Although former President Barack Obama initiated this trend in some regions through calculated disengagement, it has accelerated sharply under President Donald Trump.

Here are 10 regions where U.S. influence has faded most dramatically:

10. The South China Sea

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
USS John McCain confronts Chinese ships in South China Sea. (Dept. of Defense photo)

The strategic and oil-rich South China Sea is one of the most contested waterways in the world, and the U.S. and its allies have competed with China for control of it for years. While the Obama administration took a tough stance on the issue and even forced China to back down from further expansion in the area in 2016, the Trump administration has instead pursued other priorities.

While on his trip to Asia this month, Trump articulated a largely incoherent policy on the South China Sea together with Vietnam and Philippines, but focused mainly on trade and North Korea. As a result, China has had a much freer hand in asserting its dominance in the region, and has expanded military bases, strengthened missile shelters, and built up small reefs into developed islands from which it can project its maritime influence — all to the detriment of U.S. power in the area.

Vietnam and China recently reached an agreement on the sea, and China’s foreign minister indicated it was a sign that the countries in the region did not trust the U.S. anymore to resolve such disputes.

9. The Pacific

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), foreground, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers)

The U.S. has long had a powerful military and economic presence in the Pacific, and Obama had hoped to create even closer ties between the U.S. and east Asia through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The controversial agreement was also seen as an effort to counter expanding Chinese trade power in the region.

In one of his first moves in office, though, Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of the agreement. In response, the remaining 11 countries that signed onto the TPP formed their own pact without the U.S. earlier this month, cutting the U.S. out of potentially profitable export opportunities and diminishing its influence along the crucial Pacific Rim.

“It’s a huge setback for the United States,” Deborah Elms, the executive director of the Asian Trade Center, told Voice of America. “If you are an exporter, this is deeply damaging.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank Robert Orr agreed.

“When Trump abdicated TPP and then told regional nations to go on their own as the U.S. would, it was inevitable that a new formulation of TPP would emerge not only without American leadership, but also without even an American presence,” he said.

8. The Philippines

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Marawi, Phillipines, sits on the northern bank of Lake Lanao. The tiny country is surrounded by the Phillipine, South China, Sulu, and Celebes Seas, and the Pacific Ocean to the east. (Image from Chrisgel Ryan Cruz)

America’s deep historical ties to the Philippines stretch back to the 1898 Spanish-American War, when the U.S. acquired the islands from Spain. Since then, the U.S. has maintained bases in the Philippines and has enjoyed immense cultural and political influence on the islands.

But since his election last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a hard-line against the U.S., and has vowed to kick U.S. troops out of the country “within the next two years.” He has also insulted the U.S. on numerous occasions, calling it “lousy,” and said the Philippines do not need the U.S.

Duterte has softened his anti-American stance in recent months, largely because of the joint Philippine-U.S. operations to oust Islamist fighters from the southern city of Marawi, and has said that he would honor existing military agreements the Philippines have with the U.S. and will upgrade bases as necessary.

Nevertheless, he has still criticized the quality of U.S. equipment being given to the Philippines to fight the extremists and has received arms shipments from Russia and China. And perhaps most importantly, support for the U.S. in the Philippines has dropped significantly, all while approval for China has grown.

7. Turkey

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
President Trump (left) and President Erdogan of Turkey (right). (Photo from Moscow Kremlin.)

Along with Israel, Turkey has been considered the most reliable U.S. ally in the Middle East for decades and has been a crucial member of the NATO alliance since 1952.

Yet few of America’s ally relationships have become as strained as the one with Turkey in recent years. Peeved by America’s escalating diplomatic chastisement of its authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the U.S.’s continued support for Kurds in Syria, Turkey has diverged from the U.S. on numerous regional issues.

On natural gas imports, the war in Syria, and Kurdish independence, Turkey has turned to Russia and Iran for support as a direct result of friction with the U.S.

A scrapped weapons shipment to Turkey, a refusal to extradite anti-Erdoğan preacher Fethullah Gülen from the U.S., and Erdoğan’s own refusal to pander to American and European liberal norms have all contributed to a rapid decline in America’s influence in the country, which now sees its NATO membership as increasingly unnecessary.

6. Africa

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation

As the African continent continues to emerge as a region ripe for investment, the U.S. has fallen behind its rivals, and its lack of influence over African politics has been painfully apparent in its failure to control the South Sudan crisis, provide security in east Africa, and tamp down on extremism across the continent.

China, in particular, has stepped up to the plate in Africa, and the value of its investments on the continent outweigh America’s by a factor of 10. While the Obama administration had at least tried, unsuccessfully, to expand its reach in Africa from a security standpoint, the Trump administration, which has slashed foreign aid funding, has been “asleep at the wheel” according to Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle. Other officials, like former U.S. representative to the African Union, Reuben Brigety, agree.

Read Also: How US PsyOps lured an African warlord to defect using his mother’s voice

“The most disturbing thing is they are looking beyond us at this point,” Brigety told U.S. News and World Report. “As [African countries] are getting their act increasingly together… They are no longer waiting for us to figure out what we may be doing.”

While Americans and Europeans often viewed Africa from a security lens, the Chinese have used state-owned corporations to entrench China’s geopolitical influence on the continent through industrial, infrastructure, and mining projects.

5. Latin America

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Equipment Operator 2nd Class Patrick Reiter, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, operates a rig during water well drilling operations in support of Southern Partnership Station 17, a U.S. Navy deployment executed by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, focused on subject matter expert exchanges with partner nation militaries and security forces in Central and South America. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brittney Cannady)

The U.S. has also increasingly become outpaced by China in Latin America, right in the U.S.’s backyard.

As the U.S. has devoted its attention to other regions of the world, China has stepped in to fill the void economically, and has now replaced the U.S. as the main trading partner of regional giants like Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina. Militarily, China has also been angling itself as a weapons provider in Latin America, and its developing Pacific Navy may well come to play a role in Pacific South America in years to come.

Following years of American involvement, the countries of Latin America formed a new international group called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that excludes the U.S. and Canada — and instead of meeting on the American continent, CELAC held a major conference in Beijing in 2015, according to CNN Money.

Evan Ellis, a Latin American expert and professor at the U.S. Army War College, told CNN that, like in other parts of the world, China is offering investment and trade benefits with no strings attached.

“China provides a source of financing and export markets without pressures to adhere to practices of transparency, open markets, and Western style democracy,” Ellis said.

All of this is very appealing to Latin American countries like Venezuela, among others.

4. Europe

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Prime Minister of Russia Medvedev and German Chancellor Merkel in 2008. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When the U.S. passed a new sanctions bill against Russia this past July, it included a clause that said Congress could also levy sanctions against companies that worked on Russian export pipelines — and the Germans, whose companies are planning to do just that on the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline, erupted in protest.

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said the EU was prepared to retaliate economically against the U.S. for the moves.

The diplomatic awkwardness on the energy issue reflects an increasing distance Germany and the European Union have felt toward the U.S. ever since the Obama years — Europeans’ trust of the U.S. has fallen by more than half since 2009. More recently, politicians in western Europe have complained about Trump’s refugee policy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel summed up Europe’s increasing distance from the U.S. in May of this year.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days” she said. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”

3. The Arab Middle East

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl)

In 2009, Obama made a sweeping speech in Cairo that promised a new future for the Middle East, and especially for the Arab nations that make up its core. At the height of the Arab Spring two years later, it seemed like the U.S. had committed itself to use its power in the region to advance Arab democratic interests.

Yet in 2017, from Iraq in the east to Lebanon and Jordan in the west, it is no secret that U.S. influence in the Arab Middle East is at historic lows. Iranian regional dominance in the Fertile Crescent and Yemen,  instability in Saudi Arabia, and the continuing appeal of Islamism over Western liberalism all mean that America’s ability to direct politics in the region has become seriously undermined.

After decades of American interventionism in the Arab Middle East that have borne little fruit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently stated that if Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal, “no one will trust America again.”

However Arabs’ distrust of the U.S. has deeper causes than just American waffling on deals like the one with Iran — Obama’s inaction on Syria, which many Arabs saw as a betrayal, along with America’s continued singular focus on stamping out terrorism in the region have dampened hopes that the U.S. has ever had the best interests of Arabs in mind.

As a result, many former U.S. allies in the region have fallen into Russia’s embrace.

2. Mainland southeast Asia

Texas soldier saves life with stem cell donation
Kem Sokha, Acting President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and the country’s opposition leader, sits across from former Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo from U.S. State Department)

The U.S. has long striven to maintain influence on the southeast Asian mainland, perhaps most directly through the Vietnam War, and has frequently served as a bulwark in the region against China.

This bulwark seems to be weakening though, and China has been rapidly supplanting U.S. influence throughout the region by investing heavily where Americans will not. While in past decades human rights and democracy had to be cultivated in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia for the U.S. to do business there, with Trump stepping back and downplaying the importance of human rights on his recent Asia trip, southeast Asian nations have been given a freer hand — and in many cases have turned to China as a partner instead due to its strategic economic know-how.

China has long sought deeper involvement in the affairs of countries in its own backyard, and America’s disengagement on issues like the South China Sea have allowed it to unilaterally extend political and economic influence over southeast Asian countries on the mainland.

Among locals though, Chinese influence isn’t necessarily a good thing. A recent survey conducted from Singapore showed that 70% of Southeast Asians see U.S. influence as positive for regional stability, however 51% also stated that the U.S. had lost power in the region to China since Trump took office.

1. Pakistan

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Local men assist U.S. Marines in offloading hundreds of bags of flour aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Gilgit Air Base, Pakistan, Sept. 8, 2010. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin)

The U.S. and Pakistan have been ardent allies throughout the Cold War and into the War on Terror, but recent political differences and the growing influence of China in the country have strained American power in the south Asian country.

Already under pressure from the U.S. for its ties to the Taliban, the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence’s corruption and potential connections to terrorist groups, and Pakistan’s alleged dishonesty on late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, the relationship has been damaged further by the U.S. cozying up to India, which has accelerated in recent months.

Pakistan, which has been India’s arch-rival since 1947, has instead turned to China, just like so many other tepid U.S. allies around the world. Pakistan’s top foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz indicated as much in June of this year.

“Pakistan’s relations with China are the cornerstone of our foreign policy,” Aziz said.

Articles

This is what the Army’s top general wants in a future tank, and it’s straight out of ‘Starship Troopers’

The tank is far from obsolete and the US will need a new armored vehicle to replace its 1980-vintage M1 Abrams, the Army Chief of Staff said here this afternoon. But what kind of tank, on what kind of timeline? Gen. Mark Milley made clear he was looking for a “breakthrough,” not incremental evolution – which probably means that the new tank will take a long time.


“Are we sort of at that point in history where perhaps mechanized vehicles are going the way of horse cavalry and going the way of the dinosaur?” Milley asked. “I don’t think so — but I’m skeptical enough to continue to ask that.”

“We have a good, solid tank today,” Milley said of the M1. “Having said that, we do need a new ground armored platform for our mechanized infantry and our tanks, because it’s my belief that, at least in the foreseeable future — and you can follow that out to 25 years or so — there is a role for those type of formations.”

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Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman

“What are some of the technologies?” Milley said. “There’s Active Protection Systems” – electronic jammers and mini-missiles to stop incoming anti-tank weapons – “(and) there’s reduced crews with automated turrets” – as found on Russia’s new T-14 Armata, which Milley said the Army is studying closely – “but the real sort of holy grail of technologies that I’m trying to find on this thing is material, is the armor itself…. If we can discover a material that is significantly lighter in weight that gives you the same armor protection, that would be a real significant breakthrough.

“There’s a lot of research and development going into it,” Milley said. That’s true, but in all my conversations with Army and industry experts in recent years, no one believes we’re close to a “breakthrough.” Modest improvements in armor materials are in the works, but nothing that would change the fundamental calculus that makes protection heavy.

The trend, in fact, has been for everything to get heavier. The M1 tank started out in 1980 weighing about 60 tons, enough to stop most Soviet anti-tank shells and missiles of the day, but has grown to almost 70. The M2 Bradley, a heavily armed troop carrier called an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, grew from a fairly fragile 25 tons to a robust 40, with contractor BAE now proposing a 45-ton model. Some designs for a Bradley replacement, the proposed Ground Combat Vehicle, grew as heavy as 84 tons before the cash-strapped Army cancelled the program.

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Russian T-14 Armata. Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

While the Army is now looking at lighter vehicles, the experts I’ve talked to are not counting on lighter armor. Instead, they’re contemplating trade-offs once deemed heretical, like building an air-droppable light tank to support paratroops, or having the Bradley replacement only carry half an infantry squad.

Such smaller vehicles would be lighter, as well as more maneuverable on narrow city streets – a key consideration because many Army leaders, including Milley, expect future warfare to be fought increasingly in urban settings. Mosul is a brutal but ultimately small-scale “preview” of future city fights in sprawling megacities, Milley said July 28. In Mosul – as in Fallujah in 2004 and Sadr City in 2008 – it took tanks to retake the city, working closely with regular infantry and special forces, he noted.

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Light armored vehicles with Task Force 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8 traverse the rocky terrain of the Sinjar Mountains. Photo by Sgt. Eric Schwartz.

Lasers, Railguns, Robotics

While Milley put lighter-weight protection as priority number one, he also highlighted two other technologies that could revolutionize armored vehicle design. One is electrically-powered weapons, such as railguns – which use electromagnets to accelerate a solid metal slug to supersonic speeds – and lasers – which fire pure energy at the speed of light. “We’ve been using kinetic or powder-based munitions for five centuries,” Milley noted, but there are now major advances in alternative forms of firepower.

So far, lasers and railguns are being developed primarily as defensive weapons, able to shoot down drones or cruise missiles more quickly and cheaply than surface-to-air missiles. However, Air Force Special Operations Command plans to put a 150-kilowatt laser on its AC-130 gunships to disable enemy vehicles by silently burning through key components. It’s not too far from an offensive laser that can fit in a big airplane to one that can fit in a big ground vehicle.

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A target truck disabled by Lockheed’s ATHENA laser. Photo from Lockheed Martin.

The other potential breakthrough Milley mentioned was the “revolution in robotics.” The land is harder to navigate than empty sky or open sea, he emphasized, so ground robots will lag drones or unmanned ships, “but eventually we will see the introduction of wide-scale robotics.” Many of those will be small and relatively expendable scouts, designed to carry sensors or weapons ahead of the human force. Milley also wants his future tank to have enough automation not just to reduce the human crew required, but to optionally leave out the humans altogether, depending on the mission.

“Every vehicle that we develop, we probably need sure it’s dual use, so the commander on the battlefield at the time has the option of having that vehicle manned or unmanned,” Milley said. “They can flip a switch and have it be a robot.”

Building these future warbots will take a lot of thought. If you make an artificial intelligence smart enough to operate the tank some of the time, can you et the AI drive all the time and leave the human crew safe at home, where they can’t get killed or screw things up? If the humans aren’t inside the tank, do you let the AI pick targets and make the decision to kill them on its own? Pentagon policy says “never,” but if our robots have to wait for a human to say (or just think) “fire,” less scrupulous adversaries will be quicker on the draw. It’s a hornet’s nest of difficult questions that the Army – and the nation – will have to answer.

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The US Navy had 90 seconds to defend itself when Iranian-backed militants fired on them off Yemen

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USS Mason (DDG-87) fires an SM-2 during a March 2016 exercise. | US Navy photo


At about 6 p.m. local time on Wednesday in the Bab-al-Mandab Strait between Yemen and Eritrea, the USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer, detected an incoming missile.

The ship’s Aegis Combat System, an advanced radar and fire control system spotted the thread as it zoomed towards the ship.

“You have about 90 seconds from saying ‘yes, that’s a missile” to launching an interceptor missile, one US official told Stars and Stripes.

And that’s exactly what the commanding officer of the Mason did.

“We actually saw an explosion,” an official involved with the operation told Stars and Stripes.

For decades now Aegis radar and fire control systems have protected US ships and citizens by keeping a close eye on the skies

MIGHTY SPORTS

Army vet finds brotherhood through competition

1:23 a.m. It’s pitch black in Ramadi, Iraq, except for the cold moon above.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Major and his squad creep silently closer.

The enemy has already killed and maimed American troops with roadside bombs. Intel says the largest cache of explosives is right here. Major is part of the late-night raid to bring them down. This is where he wants to be.

“I was a junior in high school when the Towers were hit. I knew I wanted to do something then. And when it came time to choose college or something else, I wanted to get my hands dirty. It all stemmed from the Towers. I wanted to do my part.”

He’s in the desert as part of a light infantry unit. As he and his team get closer, the insurgents wait.


“We were two or three blocks away and I watched two squads cross that intersection,” he says.

He’s only a couple feet away now.

“I took like five steps … “

Major steps down with his right leg.

The enemy pushes the remote control.

The bomb explodes with a deafening roar, and fills the air with a lethal mix of fire and shrapnel.

“I was awake for the whole thing,” he said. “I remember going up and facing the stars.”

Major, 22, is blown up and over a steel gate and six-foot concrete wall.

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Ryan Major loves rugby because it’s loud, fast and has lots of crashes. He is hoping for gold at this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

His team, many with shrapnel injuries themselves, jump into their armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle, smash through the concrete and rush him back to the base camp.

“My guy, he had me laying on the floor and he is covering my leg. I’m losing blood like crazy. Trying to go to sleep. He smacks the p— out of me a couple times. I knew I was in a bad situation.”

“Read me my Last Rites. Tell my mom I love her,” Major says to his soldier.

“No! Wake your b— ass up! I’m not telling her anything! You’re telling her!”

They make it back to base.

“The surgeons and the doctors, they did their thing. Then they induced me into a coma.”

Doctors cut off his right leg and right thumb in Iraq. An infection while he was still in the coma took his left leg, two fingers on his right hand, his thumb on his left, part of his elbow and forearm.

Major wakes up six weeks later, December 26, in a hospital room inside Walter Reed.

And his nine years of dark depression begins.

Thirteen years after waking up in that hospital room, Major is one of the most vocal and energetic competitors at the 39th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Louisville, Kentucky, with quad rugby his favorite sport because it’s loud, it’s fast and there’re lots of crashes and smack talk.

“Hey, it’s sports. I’m a competitor. I was competing in the military. I’m competing still. It’s fast and I like to go fast.”

Major whips around with a white ball in his hand. A wheelchair cracks into him from behind and throws him from the chair and to the ground. He gets helped back in and shakes it off. Another chair crashes into him from the side as Major smacks down on his wheel into a backspin and then scores.

He crosses his arms, leans back his head and howls to the rafters.

“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

He makes it look easy, but it wasn’t always this way.

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Ryan Major races down the court on the way to a score.

“Dude, it was rough,” he said. “So rough, and I was in a really dark spot. A deep, weird depression. It was a lot of self-doubt and being hard on myself. It’s typical, going from a 100 percent independent man, having to depend on everybody for everything. That took a really big shot to my pride.

“It took me so long. I don’t have my legs. I can’t play football or anything I used to do and love. I used to play football. I wrestled. I did track and field. Now I can’t do any of that.”

Days turned into weeks, months and years.

His mom, Lorrie Knight-Major, said she and his brothers — Michael and Milan — along with Ryan’s friends, rallied to do whatever needed done.

“I credit his brothers, his family and his amazing friends who have been there all the way for him, and for all of us,” Knight-Major said. “To this day, he has a great support system. I wished every veteran and every person recovering had that kind of love.”

Corey Fick, Ryan’s best friend since the 6th grade, visited him almost every day in the hospital and made him get out and about.

“Everybody was crying when we found out he got hurt, but he is a soldier through and through,” Fick said. “He is a soldier through and through, and whatever his cause, he’ll die for it. There’s no fight he’s not going to win. I think he had a 4 percent chance of making it out of Ramadi alive.

“If this happened to anyone but Ryan, I don’t think they could do what he is doing. He has no fear and is living life to the fullest.”

As Major watched others in a wheelchair living their lives, that’s when he knew he had to do it, too.

“I’m watching other vets in my situation who had been hurt for a few years. They’re walking and talking and out having fun and I’m overhearing them. Why am I moping around when you got other amputees going out and having the time of their life?

“It was time for me to get my ass out of this bed and start getting active.”

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Besides quad rugby, you can find Ryan Major kayaking and even skiing.

The first thing he did was the Hope and Possibilities handcycle race around Central Park.

“You hear people cheering you and that started to boost me back, but it was easy. I went back to my therapist and said, ‘What’s next?'”

“There’s an Army 10-miler,” the therapist said.

He did it and wanted more. So he did the New York Marathon — 26.2 miles on a hand cycle.

“I went from a 5K to a 10-miler to a marathon all in a year,” Major said. “The best part of a marathon, is all the fans on the side, yelling at you and telling you you’re doing awesome. The worst part of a marathon, in my opinion, are those last two miles. Those last two miles were the longest two miles ever.

“I was hurting bad. My fingers were cramped and locked in place. But I crossed that finish line and said, ‘God, I am a freaking trooper. I am the biggest bad ass in this whole, entire race!”

He hasn’t stopped since.

“I found out I can still do sports. I didn’t ski before I was injured. I had my first skiing experience in Colorado and didn’t anticipate liking that. They had me going down that mountain fast and I fell in love with it. I’m kayaking. I’ll do anything.”

Besides rugby, Major is competing in javelin, table tennis and even bowling this year.

“But I want that gold in rugby,” he said. “That’s the goal. Haven’t gotten it yet. Got close and made it to the final round once. I’ll get it.”

“I am so very proud of him,” his mom said. “I am amazed at the adversity he had to overcome. Ryan has always been a fighter. He wakes up every morning happy, and makes the most out of each day of his life.”

He sometimes thinks back on that day when everything changed, but doesn’t stay in that place too long.

“Those thoughts creep in my head every once in awhile. The what ifs, the woulda, coulda thing. Those are never good,” he said. “There are positives and negatives to every situation. If I wouldn’t have joined the military, wouldn’t have met my brothers in arms, who are a huge part of my life. I never would have had that experience. I never would have traveled. I never would have had those life experiences.

“I still keep in touch with those guys from Walter Reed and with some of the staff. All these years back, and we still talk.”

It’s that brotherhood, he said, that makes these Games so important.

“I like to be loud out there and have fun. Other vets look at me and that makes them proud. They say it inspires them. Well, they inspire me.”

Major just has one request if you see him on the street. Don’t call him disabled.

“I’m an athlete. And I hope when they look at me, they think I’m a good athlete. That’s what they can call me.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

An insider explains why today’s Navy is actually stronger than ever

As most of you are aware, in the last several months the US Navy has suffered two collisions at sea. On 17 June the USS Fitzgerald lost 7 Sailors and on 21 August, the USS McCain lost 10 Sailors. The Surface Warfare community has not experienced such a loss in nearly 30 years since the explosion on the USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors.


After the collisions, I have quietly tried to make sense of what happened. I have just recently returned to the Surface Warfare community after spending the majority of my career working in the world of Naval Special Warfare. At this point, I am an outsider looking in and trying to learn about my new environment, and to make sure I am pulling more than my weight of the work load.

While trying to understand what happened, I have made the mistake of reading comments posted on Social Media of what people think happened. Comments from people from all walks of life and most who seem to have never served a day in their life in the Navy or on a Warship. One comment has particularly bothered me. After the Navy announced the firing of several Admirals, including a Command Master Chief, one podcaster stated the collisions happened because the “Navy has gone soft.”

I want to assure anyone reading this: The United States Navy has never been stronger than it is today.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Krystina Coffey

I know it’s hard for most of us to remember a time that the US has not been engaged in war. We have been in Afghanistan for 16 years and Iraq for 13 years. No one knows that better than pre 9/11 service members, especially given there are very few of us still on Active Duty. But before Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom, during the time that most Army units were running training evolutions, the Navy was steadily deploying around the world to carry the Big Stick. Before Bosnia, before the Gulf War, before Panama, before Vietnam, before the Korean War….The Navy has quietly and steadily deployed during War Time and during Peace time since its inception 241 years ago.

No one does it better than we do.

As I have stepped back into the Surface Navy, I have done so with very little experience and official Surface Warfare qualifications. So I have started at the bottom of the training pipeline with 18 and 19 year old Seaman and brand new Junior Officers.

Classes are typically taught by senior 1st Class Petty Officers and Chiefs, and some are taught by trusted 2nd Class Petty Officers. Most of the training has been done “in house” and the instructors still have a day job. Some of the Instructors are Gunners Mates and are responsible for any and all aspects of ammunition on board the ship, whether its 9mm rounds, 5 inch rounds, or highly precise, multimillion dollar missiles.

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The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile 6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. Photo from US Navy.

In addition to teaching, managing their daily tasks and subordinates, most of the instructors are also balancing Duty. Duty is not their day job. It’s the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job of ensuring proper security is being maintained on the ship and making sure the ship is ready to start to get underway if needed. Duty is broken down into sections and each Sailor essentially works for 24 hours a day once or twice a week. A sailor may work a normal work day and then stand watch in the middle of the night, and is expected to work a full day the next work day, only running on a few hours of sleep and lots of caffeine.

The overwhelming amount of hours spent working on the ship each week is more than anything I have seen during my time in NSW. Like most jobs in the military, it’s a thankless job that most Sailors never truly see the results of their labors. And to my astonishment over the last few months, the Sailors don’t complain about the work on the ship. They complain about the food. They complain when the coffee grounds run low. The Junior Enlisted complain about the Junior Officers. The Junior Officers quietly complain about the Senior Officers, And the Chiefs complain about everyone.

But when the bells ring, everyone is beside each other backing up the other one so the ship can get the attention it needs. They are a family. And like any family, there are of course some dysfunctional members, but as a whole, it’s an amazing thing watching these crews breathing life into Warships.

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USN photo

I can’t speak to high level policy decisions that happen in the beltway, or even administrative orders from Millington, but I can speak to the level of dedication at the lower levels. Sailors are hardworking. They are unruly at times, but will back each other up when its time. They are professional, and know their jobs because that’s what Sailors do. They work long hours, more than most will ever know, and they do it when Wars end and people forget ships are still required at Sea. At times, they work in terrible conditions covered in grease and smelling of Jet fuel and only a few hours of sleep, and often for weeks or months with no days off.

They are the hardest Sailors in the world.

While recent events are heartbreaking, I want to assure everyone that the United States Navy is still the strongest Naval force this earth has ever seen. Horrendous mistakes were made on the USS Fitzgerald and the USS McCain, but these ships were good ships and had good crews. These were also extremely hard worked ships ported in foreign piers.

And as of right now, the Navy has acknowledged that training in specific areas fell short. With that in mind, remember the Navy has kept ships out to Sea for 241 years. Even as you read this, there are 10’s of thousands of Sailors somewhere in the world, fiercely carrying the Navy’s Honor wherever they go. The Navy will correct the course and continue to provide diplomacy wherever is needed.

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This super-secret Cold War military unit just came in from the cold

Dressed in civilian clothes with long hair, the men looked like any other on the streets of East Berlin.


Their German accents didn’t give away their true identities as American Special Forces soldiers, part of a clandestine military unit operating during the Cold War.

Berlin, a divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain, was a focal point in the tensions that developed between NATO forces and the Soviet Union after World War II.

With a literal line drawn between the forces — American troops and their allies in West Berlin and Soviet troops and their supporters in East Berlin — the city became the “Grand Central Station of East-West espionage” and a “playground for all sorts of secret agents,” according to Bob Charest, a retired Army master sergeant and former Green Beret.

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Street art depicting the Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

It was there that, for nearly 30 years, an elite Special Forces unit operated. Today, those veterans are decades removed from their secretive mission, but are only now receiving recognition for their efforts.

The little-known unit, called Detachment A, held various missions during its short-lived history, but the longest-standing was the “stay behind” mission.

In the event of World War III — with Soviet forces expected to come pouring across the Berlin Wall — members of the detachment, who never numbered more than 100 men, were expected to blend into the city and make life difficult for the much larger Communist force.

Teams were assigned sabotage missions, ready to destroy key transportation lines, military equipment, and other targets. They also would be expected to train and lead guerrilla forces that would then be tasked with harassing the Soviet troops from behind enemy lines, buying important time to allow NATO forces to mount a counterattack.

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Photo: Central Intelligence Agency

Charest, twice a member of Detachment A, recalled one of his team’s forays across the Berlin Wall recently during a visit to Fort Bragg.

Despite the soldiers’ efforts to go unnoticed, it was not unusual for the men to realize they were being followed, Charest said.

When that happened, the soldiers were trained to evade the extra attention and disappear into the city. Failure was not an option.

“You’re a spy,” Charest said, decades after having served in the city. “You didn’t have any dog tags. You weren’t there, officially.”

“If they caught you, they would either kill you or put you in jail,” he said.

Despite the high stakes, Charest said, the men were highly trained and able to stay calm under pressure.

Part of that training involved how to surveil targets amid the busy city and, if needed, lose the enemy when under unwanted scrutiny.

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East German soldiers line up. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“We knew we were being watched,” Charest said.

Luckily, the men also knew their way around the city. Unlike other American troops in Berlin, these soldiers were trained to blend into Berlin. They had to immerse themselves in the city, becoming as knowledgeable on its nooks and crannies as the locals.

As the team led their tail through the city, Charest said, the soldiers made their way to a train station, part of the city’s subway, or U-Bahn, network.

Instead of stepping onto a train, the men let the first one pull out of the station. A second train arrived and the men were seemingly set to let that one pass, too.

But at the last moment, just before the doors closed, Charest said, the soldiers stepped onto the train.

He turned just in time to lock eyes with the man who had been following them. Charest is unsure who he worked for. It could have been the East German Secret Police, known as the Stasi, or the Soviet KGB.

As the train pulled out of the station, Charest looked at the man. Then he smiled, and as he pulled out of sight, Charest waved goodbye.

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Inside a Berlin U-Bahn car, 1977. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

For most of its history, Detachment A — sometimes known simply as “the detachment” or “Det ‘A'” — was as elusive as the men who served in the unit.

When it was formed in 1956 with the cover story of a “security platoon” assigned to another US Army unit in Berlin, only about 10 officers knew the true makeup of the unit, according to James Stejskal, a Special Forces veteran who spent two tours of duty in Berlin and later served with the CIA.

Stejskal, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, has written what might be the only definitive history of Detachment A.

His book, “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990,” was published this year by Casemate Publishers, following a two-and-a-half-year effort to research and write the book and another year-long review by the Department of Defense.

Stejskal was one of dozens of Detachment A veterans who gathered on Fort Bragg earlier this month.

Once covered in shadows — to the point that even the US Army has little official documentation on the unit — the veterans of Detachment A are becoming increasingly vocal, with the hopes of bringing the unit the recognition it deserves before all of its former members are gone.

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Photo: Scapler CC BY-SA 3.0

Charest, who now lives in Campobello, South Carolina, has been a key part of those efforts.

Since Detachment A was first publicly acknowledged in early 2014, he has worked to tell the unit’s untold story.

Previously recognized by veterans of the unit as “The Man Who Brought Detachment A In From the Cold,” Charest is the group’s webmaster, maintaining a website — detachment-a.org — along with his wife, Linda. He’s also become their organizer, facilitating annual reunions.

The most recent gathering was at Fort Bragg, the same place where veterans of the unit unveiled a monument stone honoring Detachment A outside of U.S. Army Special Operations Command in early 2014.

Detachment A has long been a small, elite group. Over its nearly 30-year history, an estimated 800 men served among its ranks or with the Physical Security Support Element-Berlin, a similar unit that replaced the detachment from 1984 to 1990.

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Berlin Wall, 1988. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Charest said the annual gatherings, which once attracted more than 100 veterans, are starting to dwindle. Detachment veterans are growing older. They’re dying, he said. Or they don’t travel as well as they used to.

“We’re starting to slow down,” Charest said. “I can see the handwriting on the wall.”

That makes his mission to spread the word about the unit even more important.

“We’re getting the recognition we didn’t have,” he said.

In the years after the Cold War, the Army declassified many of Detachment A’s secrets. But its veterans were largely unaware that they were now free to speak about their experiences.

The breaking point came in 2014, Charest said. The ceremony outside the USASOC headquarters was a first for Detachment A.

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Bob Charest addresses the crowd during a 2014 ceremony. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Carter

In addition to unveiling the monument stone, the veterans also took the symbolic step of casing the unit’s colors, a flag used to identify the detachment, for the first time.

“No force of its size has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom,” Army Special Operations Command officials said during the ceremony.

Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, then-commander of USASOC, said the men operated amid untold risk, fraught with uncertainty.

“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” he said.

The next day, a story about the ceremony was on the front page of The Fayetteville Observer.

Charest said it was the first public exposure for the unit, whose existence and missions had been highly classified secrets. It began a flurry of queries from veterans of the detachment, some of whom had never even told their families about the unit.

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Retiring and casing of the Det. A colors. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Carter

“We were out of the cold,” Charest said. “This unit — nobody knows about it. Nobody knew we ever existed.”

Stejskal, who interviewed 65 veterans of Detachment A for his book and dug through what little information was available from official sources, said it was long past due for the unit to receive its recognition.

“No one became famous because of his exploits in Berlin; they were classified,” he said. “The Army has no history on us. They know of it, but they don’t know anything about it.”

Stejskal said that when he visited the Army’s Center for Military History to research his book, the organization had six pages of documents and little information. Most of the unit’s actual documents have been lost or destroyed.

“After 25 years, I figured it was about time,” Stejskal said of his decision to put together a history of the unit. “We’re on the verge of dying out and losing it all, all that historical knowledge.”

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Detachment A, also known by its classified name — the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment — was formed in August 1956 from carefully screened and selected members of the 10th Special Forces Group based in Bad Toelz, Germany. The unit was first housed at McNair Barracks and later, at Andrews Barracks in West Berlin.

Over the years, the men assigned to Detachment A remained a select group. They were highly trained, often with experience in World War II or, later, in Vietnam.

Members of the unit had to be Special Forces qualified. They needed to have a top-secret clearance. And they needed to be able to speak fluent German or another Eastern European language.

In the early days, nearly half of the unit came from soldiers who joined the Army under the Lodge Act — often refugees from Europe whose families remained under Soviet rule. Those immigrants provided important knowledge to the detachment members, who needed to appear to be German.

Charest, who served with the clandestine unit from 1969 to 1972 and again from 1973 to 1978, said the slightest mistake could blow a soldier’s cover.

“The Germans handle a knife and fork different than we do,” he said. “They count with their fingers different.”

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Breitscheidplatz–the center of West Berlin, 1960. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Detachment members had to study the habits of locals, Charest said. They needed to dress like a local, wear their hair like a local, and talk like a local.

They carried paperwork provided by German authorities or passports from Eastern European nations that supported their cover stories. Even their ranks were classified, Charest said. Instead, members usually referred to each other by their first names.

Even within the Special Forces community, Charest said, the detachment was largely an unknown.

Some soldiers were assigned to the unit assuming it was a conventional support unit. They wouldn’t learn the truth until they were in Berlin being debriefed by leaders.

“They knew it existed, but nobody knew what they did,” Charest said.

At first, Detachment A had about 40 soldiers, but it would grow to about 90 troops for most of its history. Most soldiers stayed in Berlin for three years.

Amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the detachment would have been little more than a speed bump against Soviet forces in a conventional fight.

But Charest said the detachment never intended to “fight fair.”

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With Berlin more than 100 miles behind enemy lines, encircled by what could have become the front lines of a war, those allied forces stood little chance at stopping the Soviet forces.

Stejskal wrote that the city would likely have become the world’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. He compared the hypothetical plight of the detachment to the 300 Spartans who faced a superior Persian force at the legendary Battle of Thermopylae.

“If the Russians decided to roll across the wall, that would have been World War III,” Charest said. “It was a suicide mission.”

“The odds were against us,” he added. “But that’s part of the game.”

The most the detachment could hope for, Charest said, was slowing the Soviet juggernaut.

Stejskal described the detachment mission as a “Hail Mary plan.”

He said the soldiers were there to buy time and disrupt the enemy, much like World War II’s famed Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the modern CIA.

Charest said the soldiers were constantly “poking and prodding” German and Soviet defenses. Sometimes, that would mean sneaking into East Germany via canals and tunnels.

“We were constantly trying,” he said. “If you heard the stories, you wouldn’t believe them.”

As the Cold War stayed cold, the detachment would see its missions expand.

It was tasked with probing and testing allied security vulnerabilities across Europe.

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Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989 – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, it would become more of a counterterrorism force, training to respond to hijacked airplanes and participating in the famed Operation Eagle Claw — the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.

Detachment soldiers were tasked with rescuing three diplomats being held by Iran, and two detachment members were stationed in Tehran, providing information on the target buildings and preparing to receiving the rescue force.

When the mission was scrapped and disaster struck a staging site — resulting in the deaths of several troops — the detachment members in Iran were left to escape the country on their own.

Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, who commanded Detachment A from 1970 to 1974 and later commanded all American forces in Berlin, said the city was full of spies and the Soviet KGB had known about the detachment since the late 1960s.

But, Shachnow said, the Soviets greatly overestimated the size of the unit, assuming it was about 500 men instead of less than 100.

“They knew our capabilities but did not know what our targets were,” he said.

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Berlin Wall, 1989 – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Shachnow is a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lithuania and spent three years imprisoned in a Germany concentration camp as a young boy. He moved to the United States in 1950 and became a legend in the Special Forces community.

He said he had the privilege of deactivating the Special Forces presence in Berlin.

“It was a sad ceremony in an empty room with only about 12 guest spectators seated in folding chairs,” he said. “I awarded some medals, made some short remarks, and the ceremony was over in a matter of minutes.”

“Det A was a small, covert unit staffed with incredibly talented people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Shachnow said on Fort Bragg earlier this month. “They served on the front lines of the Cold War and never fired a shot in anger. No force of its size in history has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom.”

Articles

How close is North Korea to being a nuclear threat really?

While a leaked US intelligence report suggests North Korea now can build warheads small and light enough to fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons experts doubt that Pyongyang can develop an operational ICBM with a reliable warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.


Reports about the intelligence community’s consensus on North Korea’s weapons capability came this week as Pyongyang and Washington exchanged war threats.

The July 28 analysis from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, disclosed August 8 by The Washington Post, concludes that Pyongyang has “produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” On August 10, NBC News quoted unnamed US officials as saying the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as other intelligence agencies, agreed with the assessment.

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US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford

Key questions unanswered

Miniaturization technology was one of the major hurdles in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs. If the DIA assessment holds true, the regime is now closer to achieving its ambition: striking the continental US with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

Determined as North Korea is to become a full-fledged nuclear power, experts say several important questions about its capabilities remain.

David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector, told VOA’s Korean service the DIA assessment appeared to have ignored “uncertainties and caveats” about the reliability of the miniaturized warhead, once it is loaded atop an ICBM, and little is known about the chances that the payload will reach its target.

Pyongyang already can miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them on its medium-range Rodong missiles, which have been test-launched repeatedly since the early 1990s. Albright said it might be possible, but less likely, that they could do the same with an ICBM.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

Difficulties only begin at launch

Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained that a nuclear warhead must survive the entire ICBM mission – the rigors of blastoff, possibly from a mobile launch vehicle, the flight into space and then a blazing re-entry into the atmosphere – before it can detonate above its target.

Failures can occur, Albright noted, because of the much more exacting requirements of the Hwasong-14 ICBM missile system, which has been tested only twice, and just within the past month – not enough to establish its reliability.

“Countries spend a lot of time working this problem to try to build up what they call the reliability of the warhead in a delivery system, and it just takes time,” Albright said. “I think I would be skeptical that North Korea can do it right now.”

Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had similar views. But in terms of volume, he said, if a warhead can fit inside the payload bay of Pyongyang’s Scud-type short-range missile, which has a relatively narrow diameter, any of the regime’s other missiles, including the Hwasong-14, certainly could accommodate it.

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Hwasong missile (North Korean variant). (Photo: KCNA)

Lighter warheads travel farther

It is not yet clear by how much the North Koreans can lighten their missiles’ payloads, which would extend their range.

“It is still a question mark as to whether they can threaten deep into the United States,” Elleman said.

However, he told VOA, it appears the North Koreans’ rockets could deliver a 500-kilogram warhead as far the western portions of the continental US

Further undercutting confidence in the North’s technical capabilities is a lack of clarity about the Kim regime’s mastery of atmospheric re-entry technology for the warhead, a crucial requirement for operational ICBMs.

For long-range flights, Elleman said, “the re-entry velocity, when it comes back into the Earth’s atmosphere, is much higher, and so the protection mechanisms for the re-entry vehicle [must be] more rigorous, to survive the much greater amount of heat and the vibrations as it slows down, passing through … thicker and thicker [air] as you get closer to the surface.”

Tests show ‘substantial progress’

Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is now a professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and he has visited North Korea seven times and toured its nuclear facilities.

Hecker said in an interview with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that making miniaturized warheads robust enough to survive the extreme conditions of ICBM flight “is very demanding and takes time, particularly because warheads contain materials such as plutonium, highly enriched uranium, high explosives and the like.”

“These are not,” he added, “your ordinary industrial materials.”

However, Hecker added in a separate interview this week, Pyongyang’s latest two missile tests, of their ICBMs, “demonstrate substantial progress, and most likely mean they will be able to master the technology in the next year or two.”

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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by scientists who worked on the US Manhattan Project and built the first atomic bomb, has for 70 years published the “Doomsday Clock,” intended as a measure of how close the world is to a thermonuclear war – or to midnight, on the clock, because that could lead to a worldwide cataclysm.

The Doomsday Clock stood at three minutes to midnight in 2016. The scientists involved advanced it in late January this year, and it is now just two minutes and 30 seconds short of midnight.

MIGHTY CULTURE

13 memes that tell you all you need to know about POGs

These are memes. They’re about POGs. It’s not that complicated.

If you need a primer: POGs are “persons other than grunts,” meaning anyone but infantry. POGs do all sorts of crucial jobs, like scouting, setting up communications, maintaining vehicles and aircraft, logistics, providing medical attention, etc. In this context, “etc.” means pretty much anything besides shooting rounds at the enemy.


But they’re also super annoying, constantly comparing themselves to infantry and saying things like, “we’re all infantry.”

Here are 13 memes that will prime you on the controversy:

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Lets be honest: Supply almost never makes bullets fly. They make them ride on trucks and float on boats. It’s the infantry that makes them fly at muzzle velocity out of their weapons and into the enemy’s brain case. For all of you fellows who have, “bullets don’t fly without supply” tattoos, sorry.

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I mean, yeah, sure, POGs do some of the fighting. But the infantry exists to fight the enemy — and they do it. A lot. For some of them, “a lot” means multiple times per day.

POGs, well, POGs fight less.

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Of course, infantry wants respect simply for not being POGs, which isn’t so much an accomplishment as it is a lack thereof.

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Haha, but really, some POGs are babies.

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Most POG thing a POG can say is that they’re “almost infantry.” Oh, all you lack is infantry basic and school, huh? So, you’re as “almost infantry” as an average high schooler. Congratulations.

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See, even the president says you’re an idiot.

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But enjoy those fat stacks of cash from bonuses and equal pay while the infantry enjoys their special blue ropes and “03” occupation codes. You can dry your tears with your pleasant sheets and woobies in a real bed while they hurl insults from the dust-covered cots of an outpost.

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And uh, news flash, the big technological skills that make the U.S. so lethal, everything from aerial reconnaissance to awesome rocket artillery to selectively jamming communications lines, are the skills of the POGs. I mean, sure, the infantry brings some advanced missiles to the fight, but they’re counting on supply to get the missiles to them and intel to let them know where to hunt.

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And besides, POGs get to face danger from time to time. There’s all those menacing strangers they have to confront on CQ duty. And, uh, convoys.

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And, deep down, the infantry knows they need you. They just also want to mock you. That’s not evil, it’s just light ribbing.

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And they kind of need to rib you, because you keep saying stupid stuff like this.

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Seriously, embracing the POG-life is the best thing you can do to stop being such a POG. You signed your contract, you’re serving your country, just get over the job title.

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And for god’s sake, stop doing stuff like this. No wonder the infantry makes fun of us.

Logan Nye was an Airborne POG on active duty for five years. He lives with two dogs and has never said that he’s “basically infantry,” because, seriously, he only got to shoot his rifle two times a year. Can you really do that and claim that “You’re a rifleman, too!?” No. You can’t, fellow POG.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US, Norway practice crippling enemies in desperate cold

U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force–Europe 19.1 and Norwegian Army soldiers conducted close-air-support drills during Exercise Northern Screen in Setermoen, Norway, Oct. 25, 2018.

Northern Screen is a bilateral exercise that includes cold-weather and mountain-warfare training between MRF-E Marines and the Norwegian military, Oct. 24 to Nov. 7, 2018.


“A lot of what we do as joint terminal attack controllers is structured off of a NATO standard and by us communicating with our Norwegian allies we’re overall increasing our ability both as Americans and a united force on how we do our procedures,” said Sgt. John C. Prairie II, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller for MRF-E. “It’s making us more tactically and technically proficient.”

The Marines practiced aircraft medical evacuations and discussed air-control tactics to ensure safety and success in extreme cold-weather environments.

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U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 19.1 and Norwegian Army soldiers conduct close-air support in Setermoen, Norway, Oct. 25, 2018.

(Photo by Cpl. Ashley McLaughlin)

“With cold-weather training and the gear, one of the biggest downfalls we have is that electronics drain a lot quicker,” said Prairie.

To mitigate such effects Marines cycle through gear more often to keep electronics charged and minimizing use to conserve energy.

“It’s good to work with the gear in a new environment,” said Prairie. “Setting it up, breaking it down, running through the processes, it gives you a new look on how to do it in a new environment.”

Arctic conditions not only affect gear, but also Marines. They must adapt and train to overcome environmental challenges and succeed in missions without injury.

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U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 19.1 and Norwegian Army soldiers prepare for close-air support drills in Setermoen, Norway, Oct. 25, 2018.

(Photo by Cpl. Ashley McLaughlin)

“The cold-weather predeployment training has really helped out the Marines and really prepared them for what we’re doing out here,” said Prairie. “I feel that everything has gone very smoothly, we’ve definitely improved our efficiency both with our gear setup, break down, our communications with the aircraft and the processes with the Norwegians. I think we’ve done a really good job of building up our ability here.”

This opportunity is a vital asset to train with other nations in environments unlike those in the U.S. This type of training improves NATO capabilities in a non-combative environment to be prepared for any challenges our Allies might face.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.