If you’re in the military or are a veteran and haven’t heard about the Space Force yet, it’s time to climb out from under that rock you’ve been living in. There’s a sixth branch of the U.S. military now, and it’s going to be a department of the Air Force.
Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it’s called the ‘Space Force’ and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.
So if you’re excited to do your part, you can fully engulf yourself in the burgeoning Space Force culture, you can now enjoy the first Space Force song, sure to be shouted at the top of many a Spaceman’s lungs every morning during Space-ic Training.
This songified version of President Trump’s Space Force announcement was created by The Gregory Brothers, whose YouTube page is packed with pop culture songification. Due to the popular demand for the song to be made into a ringtone via the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, the Gregory Brothers responded immediately.
The Army began issuing the M17 handgun, the newest addition to its soldiers’ gear, in late November 2017, distributing them among members of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
The new sidearm is only the third handgun the Army has fielded widely in the past century. It will replace the M9 pistol and will be distributed to a broader segment of the force than previous sidearms, which were mainly carried by officers and soldiers in special roles.
Wider distribution of the sidearm comes after 16 years of combat operations in which U.S. troops often found themselves in close-quarters engagements, and it’s the Defense Department’s first step toward better preparing and training soldiers for the demands of combat operations in the future — whether that means fighting in dangerous, close-in situations or meeting with local leaders.
The decision to arm the 101st’s team leaders with sidearms in addition to their main weapons stemmed directly from feedback from soldiers’ battlefield experiences, an Army official told Army Times, and commanders will have the option to put the pistol in the hands of soldiers at even lower levels.
“It just improves our lethality as a force to have more soldiers armed with this weapon,” 2nd. Lt. Connor Maloney told Army Times. Maloney’s company in the 101st Airborne Division now has 46 M17s, rather than just nine M9s.
But a review of Pentagon programs in fiscal year 2017 conducted by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation found that the M17, and its counterpart, the more compact M18, both exhibited persistent problems during testing.
The DOTE report was compiled from April through September 2017, but the problems it documented were not revealed until the report was issued in January 2018.
During drop-testing the weapons accidentally discharged — a problem that appeared in the another version of the Sig Sauer-made pistol. The manufacturer introduced safety upgrades for the problem, though the fix may have contributed to the splintering of two triggers during testing, the DOTE report states.
Both versions of the pistol also “experienced double-ejections where an unspent ball round was ejected along with a spent round,” the report found. The Army established a root-cause analysis team to find the reason for double ejections, but, the report notes, “As of this report, this analysis is still ongoing.”
Both the M17 and M18 experienced a higher number of stoppages — a deficiency that keeps the pistol from operating as intended, but can be fixed through immediate action — when firing with ball ammunition than they did when firing special-purpose ammunition. Both failed the mean rounds between stoppage reliability requirement when firing with ball ammunition.
Officials from the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier, which oversees the programs that provide most of a soldier’s gear and weapons, and from Sig Sauer, which won the 10-year, $580 million Modular Handgun System contract to provid M17s and M18s in January 2017, have both downplayed the concerns raised in the DOTE report.
A Soldier with C Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fires the new M17 or Modular Handgun System at the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) indoor range, Nov. 28. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Samantha Stoffregen, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public Affairs)
A Sig Sauer spokesman said many of the problems outlined by the report were from the weapon’s early testing period and that the company stood by the thousands of M17 and M18s it has shipped so far.
Army PEO Soldier spokeswoman Debra Dawson told Army Times that all of the MHS weapons currently field meet all safety and operation requirements. Even though the weapon fell short of reliability requirements for ball ammunition, it was still safe to use with that type of round, the spokeswoman said.
The drop-test problems had been publicly addressed, Dawson said, noting that the weapon had passed the Army’s drop test. She added that the trigger-splintering incidents only happened to two of some 10,000 purchased weapons and were not related to design flaws or manufacturing issues.
While it doesn’t appear the root cause of double-ejection issue has been found, Dawson said it may be related to the magazine and could potentially be resolved with minor adjustments.
Slide stoppages led to 50% of the M17 stoppages and 75% of the M18 stoppages, the DOET report said.
The predominant cause of such stoppages was the slide failing to lock after firing the last round in a magazine, which is meant to tell the shooter when to reload.
The report noted that the stoppages appeared to stem largely from the use of a high pistol grip and cited Army marksmanship experts who called it an “insignificant problem” that could be resolved with more training and experience with the weapon.
PEO-Soldier officials told Army Times the “anomaly” would be addressed by modifying marksmanship training.
Despite the issues raised by the DOTE report, the M17 had been well received by the troops who have gotten it.
“It is easier to fire and simpler to operate,” Sgt. Matthew J. Marsh, a member of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, said at the end of November 2017. “The pistol felt very natural in my hand. I am excited to take my experience back to my unit and share it with my soldiers.”
“It handled really well, very reliable,” Cpl. Jory Herrman, a team leader in the 101st Airborne, told Military.com at the time. “We slung a lot of rounds down range today had little to no problems out of them… I think it is going to be a great sidearm.”
Our mothers nurtured us from crying babies into (less-often-crying) adults. They took care of us. They raised us. Little did they know the tiny little life hacks they were teaching us along the way made us (feel) immortal. Here are some of the tricks of the trade that contribute to our inflated sense of lethality.
Chicken noodle soup and ginger ale
Ah, chicken noodle soup and ginger ale. An elixir from heaven. This at-home remedy has been used by mothers since, well, chicken noodle soup and ginger ale have existed. It’s used to treat: the cold, the flu, a fever, a headache, an upset stomach, a hangover, a broken arm, a break-up (Eliza come back, I beg you). It’s also the officially required lunch of “I-faked-being-sick-to-get-out-of-school-so-now-I-really-have-to-milk-it-and-pretend-like-this-is-the-only-thing-I-can-eat-even-though-I-am-starving-and-could-run-a-freaking-train-on-those-Bagel-Bite-pizzas-in-the-freezer.” There is something about the crisp tangy pop of ginger bubbles and the salty hot broth of chicken noodle that calms down the soul and makes us impervious to any and all small bodily ailments.
The all-important “junk” drawer
You may be in your kitchen, but if your mom had a junk drawer, then you’re never out of reach of a potential weapon. The junk drawer is a magical, mystical, place of knick-knacks and lost treasures. A junk drawer could contain any or all of the following: scissors, dead (and half-alive) batteries, expired grocery coupons, snapped mouse traps, loose change, a calculator, nails, bolts, matches, two tickets to paradise, those little twisty things on bags of bread, and the TV remote you’ve been looking for. It is a virtual MacGyver preparedness kit. As Clemenza said in The Godfather, “Leave the emergency kit—take the junk drawer.”
(*DISCLAIMER: Not to be confused with thefather-inspired “Pantry Below The Sink Full of Plastic Bags”)
Super glue on cuts
Okay, this one is a dice roll of a pick. Maybe it was just my prison guard careerist mother—but I was always taught to put super glue on cuts. I have saved hundreds of dollars in urgent care visits by cleaning a deep cut and then gluing it back together. I do not know if it is sanitary or safe. If I was a betting man, I would put all the money I saved on urgent care visits on it not being safe or sanitary. But hey, mom knows best, and I challenge any flesh wound (3cm long or less, preferably on a finger) to try and stop me.
The tennis ball garage trick
There is a hot, hot debate, about whether this was a mother idea or a father idea. To that debate I say: would a father ever really use an instrument of measure to assure safety? I once watched my father grab a tarantula with his bare hands. Dads are not interested in their own well-being. Luckily, people like us, have moms who taught them to tie a tennis ball to the garage ceiling, at just the right length to tap your windshield and let you know not to go any further forward—lest you bump into a cardboard box mountain of Christmas decorations. Safe ride=lethal driver.
Make lunches the night before
Preparedness is something that mothers have in spades. While all your coworkers are sprinting to their cars to speed to Subway so they can wolf an footlong in 4 minutes and be back before 30 minutes—you are enjoying a wonderful little at-home lunch you made last night. And why? Because your mother taught you. You save money, and you have a full meal catered to your liking. So you can always remain focused, vigilant, and lethal. And you can spend the last 10 minutes of break watching Netflix on your phone.
Buy coats during summer
Winter has rolled around and everywhere you look people are dropping 0 on a good winter coat. You don’t have the money. You can’t buy it. You go outside in a T-shirt and jeans. You freeze. You die. This is a highly likely scenario. However, because your mom taught you how cheap coats are during the summer, you bought yours all the way back in July for off the sales rack. So go out and brave the arctic tundra in a reasonably priced coat, warrior, you’re a discount badass thanks to mom.
Keep a roll of toilet paper in the car
“No spill formed against mom shall prosper.” There is always a roll of toilet paper crammed somewhere in my car, thanks to my mom. Its functionality spreads far and wide: spills, quick sneezes, eliminating icky bugs, preventing my neanderthal brain from spitting gum directly into the plastic door compartment, cleaning spilled ketchup on a shirt, and throwing on a car that’s parked like a jackass. Mom ain’t raise no punk.
For three weeks in May 2020, the world speculated about the fate of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader. Many believed he was dead, some say of either complications during surgery or of a heart attack.
None of the rumors were true, however, and why Kim left the public eye is still up for popular debate among North Korea watchers. What everyone in the know can agree on, is, that North Korea without a Kim at the helm would certainly stumble and fall. Here’s why:
They’ve been selling the Kim family for too long
According to North Korea’s propaganda machine, Kim Il-Sung (Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather and founder of North Korea), pretty much single-handedly fought the Japanese and repelled them from the Korean Peninsula during World War II. Then he rebuilt North Korea after the disastrous Korean War, which North Korea definitely did not start. North Koreans see Kim Il-Sung as so divine, they can’t believe he poops. Even with his embalmed body lying in state eternally in Pyongyang, they angled it so no one can see the massive goiter on his neck.
That hardly compares to Kim Jong-Il, whose birth on holy Mount Paektu was heralded with a double rainbow and a new star appearing in the sky.
After spending their whole lives believing the demi-god Kims come down from an Asgard-like place and protect North Korea from evil America, would anyone believe that just any ol’ bureaucrat like Choe Ryong-hae can do that? Do you even know who Choe Ryong-hae is?
It’s basically a monarchy
Kings get their power from God, who gives them a divine right to lead the country. Kims also get their power from gods, which also happen to be them. The Soviet Union, who considered its brand of communism the original communism, from which all communism should be replicated. Kim Il-Sung didn’t care for all that and decided to hand-pick his successor; his son Kim Jong-Il, creating the first communist regime that also has a ruling family.
The Kims have ruled the country for three generations, which makes their rule a dynasty. Unlike Stalin in the USSR, Kim Il-Sung extended his personality cult to his family, clearing the path for this brand of communism that seems antithetical to the idea of communism.
Let’s see Choe Ryong-hae do that.
Even when things are bad, Kim makes everything better
When Kim Jong-Il came to power in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il-Sung, the elder Kim had been in power since 1948. Things had been pretty good for the DPRK while Kim Il-Sung was in power. Any shortcomings in the North Korean economy were filled in by subsidies from the Soviet Union. For a time, North Korea was the superior Korea.
When the USSR fell, all that fell apart with it. With Soviet aid gone, the country experienced a wide range of supply shortages, including food. A massive famine broke out and much of the population died. Still, support for the Kims never wavered. Under Kim Jong-Il, never as beloved as his father, the country secured nuclear weapons and guaranteed independence from the Yankee scum and their southern Korean puppets. To this day Kim Jong-Il is depicted in front of waves crashing on shore in North Korean art, a symbol of steadfastness in uncertain times. Choe Ryong-hae would have been useless in such a situation.
Everything the world does only backs up their claims
Imagine being told the world was full of American bad guys who want to pound North Korea again like they did in the 1950s. You remember your grandfather’s stories of the fighting. It sounds horrible. Then perhaps one summer your family gets to go visit Kaesong, near the demilitarized zone and actually tour the DMZ. You see first hand the giant American and South Korean soldiers just staring across the border, waiting for their moment.
If ever you doubt the Kims are truly divine or are the great leaders they claim to be, you simply have to go visit the International Friendship Museum to see all of the gifts the world has brought them for their patronage. There, you can also see all the historic world leaders that came to pay homage to the Kims, including other communist leaders and even American presidents!
There are always more Kims
The dynasty doesn’t stop at Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Il has another son ready for the throne. Kim Jong-Un has a living brother, who has children of his own. Even one of Kim Il-Sung’s brothers is still alive, though he will soon turn 100 years old.
But no one is more visible right now than Kim Yo-Jong, the regime’s spokesperson, who both visited the South in 2018 and has met President Donald Trump. Her voice will be the loudest for the foreseeable future.
That is, unless she gets out of line. Two Kims have already met their fate for that.
The Army’s pathfinders are elite airborne infantrymen capable of slipping into enemy territory to prepare drop zones and landing zones, conduct reconnaissance, place navigational aids, provide air traffic control, and recover wounded personnel. Basically, they have more applications than an iPhone, and they can do all it at night, on their own, without reinforcements or resupply while under fire.
The units got their start in World War II after parachute drops into North Africa in 1942 and Sicily in 1943 resulted in troops dispersed across the target areas instead of massed into effective fighting formations. To fix this, the Army borrowed tactics and techniques from British scout companies to create their own pathfinder platoons and companies.
As World War II continued, pathfinders led the way into Normandy on D-Day and southern France in Operation Dragoon as well as aided the aerial resupply of troops pinned down in the Battle of the Bulge. They used signal fires, special radios, and lights to create paths for aircraft to follow, ensuring pilots could navigate to their target.
In the Korean and Vietnam wars, pathfinders continued their missions leading airborne forces but the expansion of helicopter operations gave them another job.
Today, pathfinders are primarily used for recovering wounded and isolated personnel, conducting reconnaissance, and assisting in helicopter assaults. They’re also experts in sling-load operations, the movement of heavy equipment by slinging it under a chopper.
The Army has cut the pathfinders to two companies, one in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade and one with 82nd’s CAB. These companies rarely fight as a single unit. Instead, commanders kick out small teams of pathfinders to support operations across a large geographical area where they conduct all their missions. These teams of about six men have seen heavy combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the shortage of dedicated pathfinder companies, infantry units send soldiers to the Army’s Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers become experts in linking Army ground and aviation elements, assisting their units when pathfinder companies aren’t available.
The leading candidate to take the helm of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan was killed in a US air-strike on August 10, US forces Afghanistan announced August 13.
Abdul Rahman and three other senior ISIS militants were killed in the strike marking the latest in a series of decapitation strikes by the US on the terrorist group in Afghanistan. The location of the strike reveals that ISIS “appears to be relocating some of its senior leadership from the eastern province of Nangarhar to the rugged, mountainous northeastern province of Kunar,” Long War Journal fellow Bill Roggio noted August 14.
ISIS’s previous leader in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed in Kunar in a July 11 drone strike. Sayed was only at the helm of the terrorist group for 6 weeks before being killed and was the third head of the group in Afghanistan killed by the US.
ISIS in Afghanistan has morphed from a nascent band of militants in 2015 to a full-fledged threat in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The group controls a relatively small amount of territory but has used it to launch multiple complex attacks on the capital city of Kabul, killing hundreds with its brutal tactics.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of ISIS. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem,” Pentagon Chief Spokesman Dana White declared in a recent interview with Voice of America.
Roggio concurred with White’s assessment saying ISIS “has far fewer resources and personnel, and a smaller base a of support than the Taliban and its allies – has weathered a concerted US and Afghan military offensive in Nangarhar and the persistent targeting of its leaders for nearly two years.”
The US Navy will prohibit all guests, including family members, from attending the graduation ceremony for recruits in Great Lakes, Illinois, due to concerns over the coronavirus.
The Navy will “suspend guest attendance at graduation ceremonies to prevent any potential spread of COVID 19 to either Sailors of Navy families,” Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) said in a statement, using the abbreviation for coronavirus disease 19.
The new directive is scheduled to begin on March 13. Guests will be able to view the graduation on a livestream on the command’s Facebook page instead of attending the ceremony in person. The Navy said it will continue to monitor to situation to determine when to lift the ban.
The Navy added that there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus among its recruits and that incoming recruits will be screened on arrival.
The US Army implemented similar measures to screen its recruits. Army recruits will have their temperatures taken and will be asked if they are experiencing other flu-like symptoms, including coughing, sore throat, and fatigue.
“This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution, to both ensure the welfare of Sailors and that RTC can continue its essential mission of producing basically trained Sailors,” RTC said in its statement. “Recruits impacted by this change are being authorized to call home to directly inform their loved ones.”
Off-base outings, which are granted for the new recruits who spent eight weeks in training, will also be cancelled. The recruits will instead “report directly to their follow-on assignments,” which will likely entail training for their individual occupational specialties.
The Navy has implemented other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The US Navy’s 6th and 7th fleets, responsible for European and Asia-Pacific waters, respectively, imposed a 14-day quarantine on ships between port calls in their regions.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is known for its baller tech, from helping to invent the internet and Google Maps to developing artificial intelligence and drone swarms. For the last few years, they’ve been looking into how to make vehicles safer in combat without strapping ever-increasing amounts of armor to it.
Demonstrations of DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies
The Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) Program is largely complete, and it’s archived on DARPA’s website. Most of the tech has proven itself in the lab and testing, but now some will—and some won’t—get deployed to units over the next few years.
One of the more exciting and groundbreaking technologies is the Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension. This equips vehicles with a suspension that can raise wheels 30 inches or drop them 42 inches, and each tire is controlled separately. That means that a vehicle can drive with an even cab, even when the slope is so great that the wheels are separate in height by six feet. It also means that the vehicles can get to hard-to-reach places quickly.
Other tech breakthroughs looking to increase off-road mobility included the Electric In-Hub Motor—which crams an entire electric motor with a three-speed gearbox and cooling into a standard 20-inch rim—and the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track which can roll like a normal tire or turn into a triangular track that works like a mini-tank tread.
But there are also breakthroughs focused on getting rid of windows and making crews able to move faster and more safely. The Virtual Perspective Augmenting Natural Experience program allowed vehicle crew members to drive a windowless RV with better visibility than a normal driver. Not only can they see what would be visible from the vehicle thanks to LIDAR, but they could also “see” the environment from a remote perspective.
Basically, they could be their own ground guide.
The Off-Road Crew Augmentation program, meanwhile, draws an estimated safest path for drivers moving off-road, and it can do so with no windows facing out. That means vehicle designers can create a next-gen vehicle with no windows, historically a weak spot in the armor. Ultraviolet light from the sun slowly breaks down ballistic glass, so “bulletproof” windows aren’t really bulletproof and will eventually expire.
All of the major breakthroughs were part of research partnerships or contracts with different manufacturers, and it remains to be seen whether the military branches will request prototype vehicles that use the tech. But there’s a chance that your next ride, after the current iteration of the JLTV, will be something a little more exotic.
There are a handful of men in military history that could accurately be described as a “one man army.” You may never have heard of Lawrence Dominic “Fats” McCarthy, but you’ll remember his story after hearing the end of it. An orphan who enlisted to fight World War I for Australian forces, he would leave the war having survived its most intense fighting and wearing the Victoria Cross – the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat.
Dominic McCarthy was hard to miss. He was a large man, with a few extra pounds that earned him the nickname “Fats.” But that never held him back as a soldier. By the time he arrived to fight the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli, he was already wearing the stripes of a Lance Corporal. Despite falling ill, he would survive Gallipoli as one of the last men of his battalion to depart the fighting.
The fighting at Madame Wood may not be as infamous as the fight for Gallipoli or the similarly-named Belleau Wood, but it was just as intense and – at times – treacherous. The hazards in the fighting weren’t just in no man’s land. The English trenches themselves were muddy and full of twisted metal and refuse. Fats was ready to move his men forward toward the German lines, but the units to his left were being held up by stiff enemy resistance. He decided to do something about it.
He grabbed a sergeant and took off for the German position, moving so fast (especially for a man his size), he was able to deftly avoid the incoming German machine gun bullets. He arrived at the enemy machine gun nest well before his battle buddies, eliminated it, and moved on to the trench before the other Aussies even hit the first position.
He entered the enemy trench with just his service rifle as the sergeant, now wounded, caught up to him. The two men swept through the enemy, picking up their grenades and turning the explosive on them. The two Aussies knocked out three machine gun emplacements while inflicting heavy casualties as they moved. McCarthy then shot two more officers and used his captured grenades against another enemy position, bombing it until the Germans waved a blood-soaked white flag.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace. The British press dubbed McCarthy the “Super VC,” but the big man demurred when given that moniker, saying he believed there was a VC inside every soldier.
He survived the war, being repatriated to England after coming down with the Spanish Flu that affected millions of others around the world, surviving until the ripe old age of 83.
There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.
I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.
1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law
Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.
On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.
2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border
In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.
Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.
The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.
People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.
And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.
3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing
Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.
MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”
On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.
The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.
MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.
4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large
When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.
I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.
The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.
5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far
Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.
But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.
I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”
That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.
This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.
In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)
Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.
But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.
In a speech at the Air Force Association’s air-warfare symposium in Florida in late February 2018, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said it was, “time for us as a service, regardless of specialty badge, to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today.”
It’s not the first time Air Force leadership has underscored the importance of space.
Goldfein outlined the Air Force’s preparations for space operations in a February 2017 op-ed. In October 2017, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson emphasized the interests the US has in space and stressed the Air Force’s obligation to prepare for conflict there.
“We are the ones, since 1954, who are responsible for everything from 100 feet below the earth in missile silos all the way up to the stars,” she said at an event in Washington, DC. “We need to normalize space from a national-security perspective. We have to have all of our officers who are wearing blue uniforms more knowledgeable about space capabilities and how it connects to the other domains.”
US national-security officials have said space will become a venue for a range of state and non-state actors with the continued expansion of the space industry and increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, and proliferation of international partnerships for shared production and operations.
“All actors will increasingly have access to space-derived information services, such as imagery, weather, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes,” Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, said in a Worldwide Threat Assessment delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee early 2018.
“As if we don’t have enough threats here on Earth, we need to look to the heavens — threats in space,” Coats told the committee.
In his February 2018 speech, Goldfein said the question was not if, but when the US will be fighting outside Earth’s atmosphere.
“I believe we’re going to be fighting from space in a matter of years,” he said, according to Space News. “And we are the service that must lead joint warfighting in this new, contested domain. This is what the nation demands.”
Goldfein has been a proponent of multi-domain operations, which draw on air, cyber, ground, sea, and space to provide a full picture of the battlefield. Fighting outside the earth’s atmosphere will require new training as well as investment in new technologies, he said.
“We must build a joint, smart space force and space-smart joint force,” he told the audience in Florida.
Asked March 2018 about congressional concerns over the Air Force’s preparations for operations in space, Wilson outlined specific moves the force is making to ready itself.
“I think it’s harder for people to understand [space] because it’s not where we normally breathe and live, but for the Air Force it is an area of tremendous emphasis — just look at the budgets,” she said at the Heritage Foundation.
The fiscal year 2018 budget had a 20% increase in funding for space programs, Wilson said, and the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal — which requests $8.5 billion for space programs — added more than 7% on top of that.
“We have shifted to next-generation missile warning — so a rapid change there to cancel two planned satellites and shift to a defendable missile-warning architecture. Jam-resistant GPS, so GPS III, is in this budget,” Wilson said, referring to the next set of satellites needed to keep the global positioning system operational.
The “National Space Defense Center is now set up and established so that we have a common operating picture of what’s going on in space, because unless you known what’s going on you can’t defend it,” she added. “Our budget also includes simulators and war-gaming to train space operators to operate in a contested environment. So there is a lot in this budget.”
In the next five years, the Air Force plans to put $44.3 billion toward space systems, according to Space News — about an 18% increase over the five-year plan submitted in 2017. The new total includes $31.5 billion for research and development and $12.8 billion for procurement.
“The top-line numbers, I think, tell a story,” Wilson said at the Heritage Foundation. “But I think when you get down into the programs, there’s a real recognition that space will be a contested domain and that we are developing the capability to deter and prevail should anyone seek to deny the United States operations in space.”
The United States has substantial air, land, and sea forces stationed in South Korea
As well as several units based in Japan and the western Pacific earmarked for a Korean contingency. Together, these forces far exceed the firepower of North Korea’s armed forces and represent a powerful deterrent not just against Pyongyang but any potential adversary in the region.
A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)
The first U.S. forces that would be involved in a North-South Korean conflict are those currently based in South Korea. On the ground, the U.S. Army rotates a new armored brigade into South Korea every nine months — currently the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Each brigade is manned by 3,500 soldiers and consists of three combined arms battalions, one cavalry (reconnaissance) battalion, one artillery battalion, one engineer and one brigade support battalion. Armored brigade combat teams typically consist of approximately 100 M1A2 Abrams tanks, 100 M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and eighteen M109-series self-propelled howitzers.
The army in South Korea also maintains the 2nd Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, equipped with approximately sixty Apache attack helicopters, Blackhawk, and Chinook transports. The 210th Artillery Brigade, equipped with M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems provides long-range artillery fire, while the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade provide Patriot missile coverage of Osan and Suwon Air Force Bases. The 35th Brigade also operates the AN/TPY-2 missile defense radar and six Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launch vehicles recently sent to the country to beef up anti-missile defenses.
The other major component of American power in Korea is U.S. tactical aviation. The U.S. Air Force maintains the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, consisting of the 25th Fighter Squadron at equipped with A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack jets and the 36th Fighter Squadron with F-16C/D Fighting Falcon fighters (about forty-eight aircraft in all). The 8th (“Wolfpack”) Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base consists of the 35th and 80th Fighter Squadrons, which fly a total of forty-five F-16C/Ds. The A-10Cs have the mission of close air support, while the F-16C/Ds are responsible for air interdiction, close air support, and counter-air.
Beyond the Korean Peninsula, the United States maintains an array of forces ready to intervene. U.S. military forces in Japan include the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, two guided missile cruisers and seven guided missile destroyers. Many of the cruisers and destroyers have ballistic missile defense capability although two of the destroyers, Fitzgerald and McCain, are out of action due to collisions with civilian merchantmen. The Reagan and surface warships are all based at Yokosuka, Japan.
Further south, Sasebo, Japan is the home of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and the ships of its amphibious task force. Together, this amphibious force can lift a marine infantry battalion reinforced with armor, artillery and aviation assets collectively known as Marine Expeditionary Unit. Sasebo is also the home of the 7th Fleet’s four minesweepers. The result is a well-balanced force that can execute a wide variety of missions, from ballistic missile defense to an amphibious assault.
Farther north in Japan, the U.S. Air Force’s 35th Fighter Wing is located at Misawa, Japan. The 35th Wing specializes in suppressing enemy air defenses (SEAD) and is trained to destroy enemy radars, missile systems, and guns to allow other friendly aircraft a freer hand in flying over the battlefield. The wing flies approximately forty-eight F-16C/Ds split among the 13th and 14th Fight Squadrons. Near Tokyo, the USAF’s 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base flies C-130 Hercules, C-130J Super Hercules, UH-1N Huey and C-12J Huron aircraft.
Marine Corps units are spread out across Japan, with Marine fixed-wing aviation, including a squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, tankers, and logistics aircraft stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, the only Marine Corps air station on mainland Japan. Three squadrons of Marine helicopter units are stationed at MCAS Futenma on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Marine ground forces include the 4th Marines, a marine infantry regiment with three battalions, and the 12th Marines, an artillery regiment with two battalions of artillery.
Also on Okinawa is the sprawling Kadena Air Base, home of the 44th and 67th fighter squadrons, both of which fly the F-15C/D Eagle fighter. Kadena is also home to a squadron of K-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, a squadron of E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft, and two rescue squadrons. Farther from a potential Korean battlefield (but still in missile range) Kadena would act as a regional support hub for American airpower, with AWACS aircraft monitoring the skies and controlling aircraft missions while tankers refueled bombers, transports, and aircraft on long-range missions.
The next major American outpost in the Pacific, Guam, is home to Submarine Squadron 15, four forward-deployed nuclear attack submarines supported by the permanently moored submarine tender USS Frank Cable. Naval special warfare units are also based on the island. An army THAAD unit was deployed to the island in 2013 to protect against North Korean intermediate range ballistic missiles.
Guam is also home to Andersen Air Force Base. Andersen typically hosts a variety of heavy aircraft, including B-1B Lancer strategic bombers from Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence Mission, KC-135 tankers and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones. Andersen served as a jumping off point for bomber raids against North Vietnam and today would see a surge of B-1B, B-2A and B-52H bombers from the continental United States in the event of a flare-up in Korea.
U.S. forces in the northwest Pacific are considerable, amounting to two ground combat brigades, approximately seven wings of fighters and attack aircraft, a handful of strategic bombers, an aircraft carrier, submarines, hundreds of cruise missiles and an amphibious assault task force. That already formidable force can be swiftly augmented by even more combat forces from Hawaii, Alaska, and the continental United States, including F-22A Raptors, airborne troops, and more aircraft carriers, submarines, and bombers. It is a robust, formidable, adaptable force capable of taking on a variety of tasks, from disaster relief to war.