DUSHANBE — The sole survivor of a group of attackers who killed four Western cyclists in Tajikistan in 2018 has died in a prison in the capital, Dushanbe.
Mansurjon Umarov, chief of the Main Directorate at the Tajik Justice Ministry’s Penitentiary Service, told RFE/RL on March 3 that prosecutors were investigating the cause of death of Hussein Abdusamadov, who was serving a life sentence for his role in the killing of the foreign cyclists on the Dushanbe-Danghara highway in July 2018.
“Abdusamadov’s body has been sent for an autopsy to exclude torture or violence as his cause of death,” Umarov said, stressing that Abdusamadov “was a dangerous terrorist.”
Abdusamadov’s relatives confirmed the report, telling RFE/RL that they received his body on March 2.
Four cyclists — an American woman and man, a Dutchman, and a Swiss man — were killed on July 29, 2018, when attackers plowed their vehicle into the group on a road and then stabbed some of them.
Two other foreign cyclists survived the attack, which occurred about 150 kilometers south of Dushanbe.
Four suspects in the attack, Zafarjon Safarov, Asomuddin Majidov, Jafariddin Yusupov, and Asliddin Yusupov, were killed by Tajik security forces.
Abdusamadov, who was named the group’s leader, survived, was found guilty of murder in November 2018.
The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it occurred and released a video showing five men — at least some of whom appeared to resemble those identified by Tajik officials as suspects killed in a confrontation with security forces — pledging allegiance to the leader of IS.
The Tajik government, however, rejected the claim and instead blamed followers of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a political party that was banned by authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon’s government in 2015.
The leadership of the IRPT — which served for several years in the Tajik government — has denied involvement and called the authorities’ claims “shameless and illogical slander.”
Peter Francisco was born into a wealthy family in June, 1760, on an island in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. When Francisco was just 5 years old, he was abducted by pirates. The future patriot was ripped from his home and carted off to a nearby ship. Approximately six weeks later, a dock worker saw a boat maneuver up the James River in Virginia. There, the pirates dropped off the young Francisco and left as quickly as they’d arrived.
Nobody’s entirely sure why the abductors snatched him up only to later drop him off without seeking payment, but historians have their theories. Some say that Francisco’s father orchestrated the kidnapping in order to spare Peter from the wrath of his family’s political enemies.
Whatever the case, locals took the abandoned Francisco to a nearby orphanage soon after he arrived. There, he was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston. He took the young boy back to his plantation to learn English. Due to his dark, Mediterranean complexion, however, Francisco lived near the slaves and never received a proper education.
Francisco spent many of his early years working on Judge Winston’s plantation, learning how to be a blacksmith. Winston invited Francisco to join him at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were all in attendance. After several days of intense debate between loyalists and patriots, Patrick Henry delivered his famous quote,
“Give me liberty or give me death.”
As the teenage Francisco watched through a window, he chose liberty.
Nearly a year and a half later, Francisco finally convinced Winston to allow him to join the Continental Army. At just 16 years old, Francisco was officially a member of the 10th Virginia Regiment and stood six feet, six inches tall and weighed 260 pounds — truly a giant of his era.
Soon after, Francisco fought in several famous battles, including Brandywine and Valley Forge. During the Battle of Stony Point, George Washington recruited 20 elite troops to be first in line to assault the British fort. Francisco was selected as one of those men.
Francisco was tasked with scaling a 300-foot wall and reaching the fort’s flagstaff. Of the 20 who led the charge, 17 were either killed or wounded — a large slash across the abdomen put Francisco among them. Despite his injury, he killed his adversaries and reached his destination. He lay, wounded, at the base of the flag as the British surrendered. From then on, Francisco was known as the “Hercules of the American Revolution.”
During the Battle of Camden, Francisco noticed a 1,100-pound cannon in a field next to some dead horses. According to legend, he managed to lift the canon and take it, saving it from falling to British hands. For this courageous act, the U.S. Postal Service design a stamp in Francisco’s honor.
As Francisco continued to fight the war, he continuously remarked on the tiny size of the swords with which they fought. Eventually, Washington gave Francisco a six-foot broadsword — not unlike the sword famously used by William Wallace in his own battles against the English.
By the time Francisco was done serving, he had been wounded six times, but never stopped fighting. He was later elected by the Senate to work as the sergeant-at-arms.
Later, Francisco died from appendicitis. He was 71-years-old.
Armored vehicles, like cars, get a makeover from time to time. Improved versions emerge, often as operational experiences and new technologies are assessed. One big proponent of this iterative process is Russia, which pays special attention to its infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.
For instance, let’s look at the BMD series of airborne infantry fighting vehicles. These vehicles are intended to back up paratroopers with some heavy firepower. The original BMD, the BMD-1, was a hybrid between a light tank and an armored personnel carrier. And, just as they did with as the the BMP, the Russians made wholesale improvements to the BMD with each new iteration.
The BMD-1 featured a 73mm gun and the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile as its primary armaments. The BMD-2, however, used a 30mm automatic cannon and either an AT-4 Spigot or AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.
The BMD-2 entered service in the 1980s, and featured a 30mm 2A42 autocannon as its main armament.
Why the shift from a 73mm gun to a 30mm? According to WeaponSystems.net, the reason was that the 73mm gun had… well, performance issues. To be precise, it was simply not as lethal as desired. The 30mm autocannon packed more punch, so it made the cut.
The BMD-2 can hold at least four grunts while packing iits lethal 30mm autocannon and a choice of anti-tank missiles.
(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
The BMD-2 could also carry grunts, just as the BMD-1 did. Sources here differ on the exact configuration, but most say the BMD-2 carried four grunts and had a crew of three. That’s a slight step down from the capacity of the BMD-1, but given the greater lethality of the vehicle, we’d call that a fair trade.
Oh, and the BMD-2 can parachute in, like the BMD-1.
(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
The BMD-2 series got further upgrades to handle the AT-14 Spriggan anti-tank missile, also known as the Kornet. According to most sources, it never was exported outside the Soviet Union — but some say India was able to get their hands on a few.
Learn more about Russia’s upgraded airborne infantry fighting vehicle in the video below!
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston announced a historic new temporary promotion policy for soldiers. The policy is designed to expand on the Army’s ongoing commitment to supporting its soldiers.
“Today I am pleased to announce a new promotion policy that helps us to continue to put people first,” Grinston shared on a press call. Beginning with the January 2021 promotion month, soldiers unable to complete the Army’s required Professional Military Education courses to qualify for advancement to sergeant, all the way through sergeant major, due to pregnancy, deployment or those enrolled in a non-resident sergeant major course will be temporarily advanced to the next rank.
Through research, the Army recognizes that the requirements for advancement to higher rank negatively impacts women in particular. Grinston shared that female soldiers would routinely speak to him about the struggle and difficulty of determining when to start a family in order to not negatively impact their career. Female soldiers are unable to complete the physical training portion of leadership school required due to pregnancy or being postpartum, often putting them behind their male counterparts in career advancement.
Deployed soldiers were also falling behind their peers in advancement opportunities. Grinston explained that Army units overseas were declining to send soldiers to the required PME courses due to operational needs within combat zones. Around 300 soldiers requested exceptions in 2019 in order to advance to the next rank. Although the number may seem small, Grinston shared that it would be much higher if the Army ever had to significantly increase their numbers to meet combat needs.
When developing the policy, leadership wanted to ensure that those attending either sergeant major course could advance on time, regardless of how they took it. It was discovered that those attending the nonresident sergeant major course tended to finish their course later, missing the deadline for meeting requirements for promotion on time. This left qualified soldiers waiting a year to advance to the next rank despite completing the required schooling. The new policy avoids that.
Command Sergeant Major Kenyatta Gaskins was also on the call with members of the press and addressed questions on whether soldiers being temporarily promoted were actually ready to advance. “Those soldiers have already demonstrated that they have the potential to perform at the next higher level. They have been recommended for promotion by their commanders,” he explained. “I don’t believe we are blindly promoting individuals. These are well deserved promotions of soldiers who’ve demonstrated the ability to perform at the next higher level.”
The temporary promotion policy applies not only to active duty Army but also those in the Army Reserves and Army National Guard. As long as soldiers are otherwise qualified and meet the conditions outlined, they will be advanced beginning January 1, 2020.
Those temporarily advanced to the next rank will have a set amount of time to complete their PME courses or they will revert back to their previous rank. Should they be reverted back due to not completing PME, they will not be required to pay back the received increase in pay due to temporary advancement. Active soldiers returning from deployment will have one year to complete their PME course and active female soldiers will have two years from the end of their postpartum profile. Those in the Army Reserves or Army National Guard will have three years.
The temporary promotion is allowable only once in a soldier’s career.
“I believe none of these scenarios – starting a family, deploying to a combat zone or selection to the nonresident sergeant major course should be a reason a soldier’s career should be delayed,” Grinston explained. “These temporary promotions support the Army’s ‘people first’ strategy.”
On Feb. 27, the Pentagon confirmed that the recruit signed a contract to join the military after a federal judge ruled that transgender individuals who meet the standards for military service must be allowed to join.
Here is a brief timeline of recent events concerning transgender military eligibility:
• June 30, 2016: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the U.S. was lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
• June 30, 2016: A RAND study determined medical care for individuals who transition would cost roughly $2.4 to $4 million annually, thus amounting to no more than 0.13% of spending on healthcare for active duty armed service members.
• July 26, 2017: President Donald Trumped announced on Twitter that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve “in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
• Aug. 29, 2017: Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that currently serving transgender troops would be allowed to remain in the armed services, pending the recommendations of a panel study and consultation with Homeland Security.
• Jan. 1, 2018: Transgender individuals were allowed to join the U.S. military after the Pentagon was forced to comply with a federal court ruling issued in December 2017.
• February 23, 2018: The Pentagon confirmed that there is one transgender individual under contract for service in the U.S. Military.
Under the guidelines effective Jan. 1, 2018, transgender applicants must be certified by a medical provider as stable without “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” for 18 months in order to be eligible to serve.
Secretary Mattis maintains that “our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield.”
Kenny Bass liked his job. As a 22-year-old Marine participating in the initial invasion of Iraq, life couldn’t have been more exciting.
“I was part of the combined anti-armor platoon,” he explained. “It was the ‘CAAT platoon.’ We were doing a lot of counter-ambush patrols, the insurgents were attacking Red Cross personnel, civilian contractors and other non-combatants. So we were tasked with going out and trying to solicit an attack. We were Infantry Marines, and young, so most of us were pretty excited about doing that kind of work. We had heavy-duty machine guns and anti-tank missiles.”
About four months into his tour, the odds caught up with the young Infantry Marine. The unarmored Humvee he was riding in struck an IED.
“I was sitting in the passenger side rear, and the IED blew up by the right front bumper,” he said. “Nobody got killed, and I just took a couple pieces of shrapnel to my face, nothing major. I think the blast wave injury was the major thing.”
Nevertheless, by the time he returned home from Iraq in early 2004, Bass was a different man.
“My friends noticed a change in me,” he said. “I was depressed. And I was anxious. I remember going to a flea market one time and that’s when I had my first panic attack, because of all the people there. It was like I was still in Iraq, where just about everyone you see is a potential threat. I hated going out to eat or going to the mall or anything like that.”
104 in a 65 Zone
As if depression, anxiety and panic weren’t enough, another symptom began to surface.Anger.
“I was walking around with an anger level of about seven or eight,” Bass explained. “One time I got pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for doing 104 mph. I got mad at the cop for pulling me over. I was such a jerk. It didn’t take much to tip me off.”
At home, the 33-year-old Veteran’s garage became his haven.
“I’d sit out there all day smoking cigarettes,” he said. “I could see the street from there, which made me feel safe, and I could also hear what was going on in the house. So I had everything covered.”
From Bad to Worse
To dull the anxiety and the fear, the former Marine turned to alcohol.
I started drinking a lot,” he said. “Of course the alcohol just made things worse. I got to the point where I hated to wake up in the morning. I hated my life. I wanted to be healthy again. I wanted to work again and not be on disability.”
In an effort to get his life back, Bass headed over to the Dayton VA Medical Center in 2007. There he began therapy sessions with Bill Wall, a clinical social worker who had served in the military for 30 years.
“Kenny went through our therapy program here at Dayton,” Wall explained, “but it was clear that he was still having some issues with personality changes, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, depression, anger and other symptoms related to post traumatic stress. When he would go out in public, he just didn’t feel safe or in control. I thought maybe a psychiatric service dog might be a good next step for him, so I recommended he look into it.”
Wall, a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had good reasons for thinking a service dog might be the game-changer Kenny Bass was desperately in need of.
“You can feel a lot more safe with a dog around you,” the social worker observed. “The dog has been trained to pick up on any fear or anxiety you might be feeling. They can actually smell it. The dog then does something to distract you or make you feel less anxious. When you become overloaded, the dog knows it and helps you refocus. Even before you realize you’re overloaded, the dog will pick up on it. For example, if you’re in a crowd of people and you begin showing subtle signs of distress, your dog will try to create a buffer zone around you. The dog is trying to give you a sense of safety.”
“A psychiatric service dog is…always focused on taking care of you.”
And when the world seems like a safer place, chances are you’re more likely to get out there and participate in it, Wall observed.
“The dog can help you have successful outings,” he said, “and the more successful outings you experience, the better you get at it. Your new experiences gradually begin to replace your old, traumatic experiences. You’re re-learning your behavioral script.”
Back From the Brink
In 2012, after doing a little research, Kenny Bass was able to get himself paired up with an 18-month-old German Shepard named Atlas, a highly-trained service dog provided by a non-profit called Instinctive Guardians.
“If you’re a Veteran, and suicidal, a little thing like that can be lifesaving,” Bass continued. “Atlas definitely brought me back from the brink. He’s such a character now. He gets me laughing.”“Atlas became my support system,” Bass said. “He could tell when I was having nightmares. He’d jump on the bed, lick my face and wake me up. A few weeks after I got him I was sitting alone in my garage, as usual. He came over and dropped his ball in my lap. Five minutes later I was out in the backyard with him, in the sunshine, throwing the ball for him.
Aside from being a natural comedian, Atlas also serves as a competent body guard.
“When we’re out, I can trust Atlas to be vigilant for me,” Bass said. “I’m experiencing more things now because of him. When we’re somewhere crowded, he’ll block for me. He’ll walk back and forth behind me to keep people from getting too close.
“And when I tell him to ‘post,’ he sits down on my right side, facing the other way. If somebody approaches me from behind, he’ll nudge me. He’s alerting me. It’s a good feeling knowing he’s watching and that I don’t have to.”
Having turned his life around two years ago with the help of Atlas, Bass decided it was time to start giving back. In 2013 he helped found The Battle Buddy Foundation, a non-profit that trains service dogs for Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress.
“When you’re in combat, you don’t go anywhere without a buddy, someone to watch your back,” Bass said. “That’s where the term ‘Battle Buddy’ comes from.”
He added: “It’s a good feeling to know someone always has your back.”
To learn more about how VA is helping Veterans with PTSD, visit the VA National Center for PTSD Website at www.ptsd.va.gov
With the AH-1Z Viper now serving across the entire Marine Corps, one question has emerged: What will they do with their older AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters? The older Cobras, which entered service in the 1980s, still have some serious bite.
According to a report from TheDrive.com, the AH-1W Cobras will be hitting the export market. This is a path well traveled by many used aircraft from the United States. After World War II, North American P-51 Mustangs, Vought F4U Corsairs, and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts found new life in other countries as hand-me-down planes. In later years, Israel would receive surplus A-4 and F-4 planes as replacements during and after the Yom Kippur War.
Why would a country think about buying used warplanes or helicopters? After all, combat planes don’t exactly have an easy life, even in peacetime. Fighter pilots, for instance, are often involved in dissimilar air combat training – a fancy way of saying they practice dogfighting. Continued exposure to extreme G-forces has an effect on a plane. If they’ve seen combat, that adds a whole new layer of wear. Some of these planes may have been damaged while others have flown a lot of combat sorties — why buy damaged goods?
You guessed it — used combat planes and helicopters come a whole lot cheaper than those ready to fly away from the factory. And let’s face it, a number of countries, like those who got second-hand Mustangs, Corsairs, and Thunderbolts, are on a tight budget. In this case, the AH-1Ws are still quite capable, with a three-barrel 20mm gun, gun pods, and the ability to fire a wide variety of modern missiles.
So, who’s on the short list to buy these Cobras? A number of American allies have used the Cobra in the past, according to MilitaryFactory.com. These allies include Japan, Israel, Jordan, Thailand, Taiwan, Bahrain, and South Korea. They could very well get these helicopters, but it might be prudent to get a ChopperFax report on them first.
You’re 11 years old, standing in the middle of the school lunchroom with your meal tray. As you gaze over top of your sandwich, anemic vegetables, and cookie snack pack, you anxiously wonder who will make room for you at their table.
Whether we’re 11, 27, or 80, our human bodies read social anxiety like a physical threat. Will you be able to find and keep food? Experience physical safety? Find meaning in work and life? Throughout history, all of these things have been made exponentially more difficult without a tribe or group.
Stress hormones surge when you’re feeling lonely or rejected, and when they’re elevated too long, you may begin to have difficulty communicating, displaying empathy, or engaging in high-level thinking. This makes connecting with others even more challenging, and your isolation can easily become self-perpetuating.
The good news is, you can increase your health and performance at work and home by finding or building a tribe.
The strange but true fact is that there’s nothing more important to your physical health than community. This is true even if you’re an introvert. It’s true even if your tribe embraces unhealthy behaviors like smoking, high rates of divorce, alcohol abuse and more.
In the military, your tribe is easy to identify. Your tribe may be your branch of service, unit, platoon, or even fireteam. From the first day of training, you and other members of your tribe are working to overcome challenges together. Camaraderie continues as you train, deploy, and socialize together in the coming years.
In Gates of Fire, his epic novel about the Spartan 300, Steven Pressfield writes:
“War, and preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man. It unites him with his brothers and binds them in selfless love…There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods.“
For many, military service offers the kind of community they’ve never experienced. In this community, we may find purpose, self-knowledge, identity, and so much more. Challenged by our tribe, we grow stronger, faster, and ideally into better leaders.
However, when we inevitably leave the military, we may find ourselves unmoored – adrift in a sea of isolation and alienation that threatens to sink us into depression, stress, and declining performance at work and home.
Crossing the Chasm
In the age of an all-volunteer military, we often hear about the military-civilian divide. It’s not just a divide, though – it’s a chasm.
If you’re a male veteran, only about 12 percent of peers in your age group have served in the military. If you’re a woman who served, that number drops to 3 percent.
When you leave the military you’ll likely struggle to find people who have a deep understanding of your service, experiences, and the unique culture and traditions of military life. Data shows us that alienation – or feeling out of place – is strongly correlated with PTSD and other stress injuries. Finding or building a tribe is critical to good physical, relational, and mental health.
When you’re part of a group and have a deep sense of belonging, a relaxation response takes place in your body and brain. In fact, every system of your body works better when your relaxation response firing. For example, when you’re relaxed and eating a salad, your body absorbs 17 percent more iron than when you’re stressed and eating a salad. Being part of a community results in a positive cycle.
So how do I find a tribe?
As you begin your search for a tribe, one of the most important things you can do is stay humble. Don’t let your veteran status, and all the good things that come with it, become a limiting factor as you build new relationships. Build relationships with veterans and civilians alike.
On the veteran front, give yourself permission to be around people who understand what you’ve just lived through. A great starting place is any post-9/11 veteran organization – they’ll get you connected with veterans who are in a healthy place.
Team Red White and Blue’s entire mission is to build social community at the local level – to bring people together. Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues can help you discover purpose through service.
Purpose is also key. Ask yourself what your passion, ideal volunteer work, or dream venture looks like, then get to work. You may find your civilian tribe doing volunteer work, as part of a faith group, or while living your purpose-driven life.
Finding your tribe may feel tough at first, but like most things it gets easier with practice.
CHECK OUT THESE TRIBES
Volunteer with Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response nonprofit, to rebuild communities around the nation after natural disasters.
Meet up with civilians and fellow veterans for a hike, run, or yoga class with Team Red White Blue.
Put your unique skills to use for a local non-profit, and get paid doing it, as part of The Mission Continues.
Check out a faith community of your choosing
Sign up for a local sports league or class
About the Author
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
How far would you go to reunite with a symbol you love?
For one Iraqi man, it took 13 years, 7,474 miles, help from a family member, a trip to an isolated field, and a rusty can to reclaim a treasured part of his life — an American flag.
Staff Sgt. Ahmed* shared how reuniting with the America flag changed the course of his life as he spoke to the Iron Soldiers of 1st Battalion “Bandits,” 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division Sept. 11, on East Fort Bliss.
More than 200 soldiers listened intently as Ahmed gave tribute to the Bandits he served and fought with during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Remembering the Bandit legacy
In 2003, Ahmed was serving as the official military translator for the Iron Soldiers of the 1-37 AR, 2nd ABCT. His assignment was to translate for the unit’s command team during meetings with local dignitaries and special missions. After a few months, however, the Iraqi native began to work heavily with infantry troops and accompanied them on raids, night missions and surveillances through downtown Baghdad.
The now 37-year-old vividly described the core of his job as working with U.S. soldiers, becoming part of their team and sharing in their comradery.
Staff Sgt. Ahmed speaks to Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division during a ceremony held at the 1-37 AR motor pool Sept. 11, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Michael West)
“I wanted to help these U.S. soldiers,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of rebuilding the Iraqi police and the Iraqi Army. When I got the chance to become a linguist for the Bandits, I witnessed, learned and experienced many things.”
Ahmed recounted images filled with watching local streets in Iraq swarmed with Bradley Fighting Vehicles, tanks, convoys and barbed-wire fences. He said that even at a young age, he had a drive to bring change into his country. He added that although his own family was proud, and they respected his decision to help U.S. troops, he had to remain cautious, as the war-torn county remained in turmoil.
Ahmed continued his work with the American soldiers, who believed in him enough to invite him into their inner circle of trust during his time with the 1-37 AR, 2nd ABCT. They continued working together on missions and conducting local surveillances. During this time, he began to appreciate the strength and core values of the U.S. Army and its soldiers.
“I began to see the Army as a melting pot,” he said. “There was so much diversity and different nationalities, and yet they fought together, they served together and they mourned together. Although I was from a different culture, they trained me and respected my background and ethnicity. As my role as their translator increased, so did our brotherhood.”
Ahmed said the Bandits’ last ambush toward Fallujah was a memory that will always stay with him. It was an intense mission and not every soldier survived.
“You are never prepared to lose a comrade,” he said. “On that mission, I lost my best friend, Sgt. Scott Larson. It was hard to believe. These soldiers were the same age as me and we all bonded; we formed a team.”
When the Bandits’ deployment was extended and assigned to a different area of operation, the soldiers presented Ahmed with an American flag. Each of the soldiers signed the flag to solidify their loyalty and friendship. He recalled how proud and honored he felt to receive it.
“It meant so much to me to become a part of the team with these great soldiers,” he said. “I saw their discipline and integrity every day, and I was honored that they gave this U.S. flag to me.”
Ahmed continued his work with the American soldiers. In 2005, two years after his time with the Bandits, he decided to take the flag to his home in Baghdad; he wanted to hang it in his room. He protected the flag with two heavy-duty plastic bags and then hid it inside a gym bag. But, while traveling home, his bus driver received a call that there was an anti-American checkpoint ahead.
Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division with Staff Sgt. Ahmed pose after a ceremony held at the 1-37 motor pool Sept. 11, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Michael West)
Ahmed knew he could lose his life if he was caught with an American flag. In a panic, he decided to descend the bus and walk off the freeway. He continued walking until he got to a residential neighborhood. He then quickly buried the bag using and old-rusty tin can as a shovel.
Why I serve
Ahmed moved to the United States in 2008. Inspired by his time with the Bandits and seeing their dedication for upholding the Army values, he took the oath of enlistment to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and become a U.S. soldier. He now lives in California and serves as a staff sergeant in the Active Guard Reserve.
In 2016 Ahmed’s parents made a special trip from Iraq to visit him and celebrate his accomplishments. But before his parents departed the country, Ahmed called his father with one special request – locate the buried flag and bring it with him to the United States.
“Even though more than a decade had passed since I buried the flag in Iraq, I knew exactly where it was buried, and I instructed my father to please bring it to the U.S.,” said Ahmed. “When my father told me he had located the flag, a part of me was alive again.”
The proud father and husband said his dream came true when he arrived at Fort Bliss Sept. 11 carrying the framed flag and sharing its legacy with a new era of Bandits.
“The flag finally made it home,” said Ahmed. “I think of these soldiers every day when I put on my Army uniform and display the flag on my shoulder. Today, I did not see faces and ranks, but as I looked around, I saw the Old Ironsides patch and friendships that will last a lifetime. Larson did not live to see his flag again, but these soldiers did.”
For Cpl. James Klingel, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-37 AR, 2nd ABCT, seeing and hearing Ahmed was inspirational.
“I was shocked that the flag was buried for so long, had traveled so far, and still looks amazing,” he said. “It showed us that it doesn’t matter how much time passes by. We still have the same Army traditions and the same Army values that should always be upheld, and deeply respected.”
While we tend to think of drones as a very modern addition to the battlefield, the truth is, America’s Defense Department has long been interested in the concept of unmanned aircraft. In fact, for a short window of time in the 1960s, America’s supersonic, high-flying drones were already attempting reconnaissance flights over China.
In May of 1960, the United States was at a crossroads. A CIA pilot named Francis Gary Powers flying America’s classified U-2 Spy Plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union at the start of the month. The ensuing international incident edged the world one step closer toward nuclear Armageddon, and President Dwight Eisenhower made the decision to cease all manned flights into Soviet Airspace as a result. With reconnaissance satellite technology under development but still years away from providing actionable intelligence, Lockheed’s famed Skunkworks set to work on another possibility: unmanned flights over the Soviet Union.
D-21 Drone with additional rocket booster for launch from a B-52H
In October of 1962, legendary engineer Kelly Johnson, whose career included designing both the U-2 Spy Plane and the SR-71 Blackbird, set to work designing what would come to be called the D-21: a long-range, high altitude drone that leaned heavily on technology developed for the SR-71’s predecessor, the A-12.
The requirements Johnson was given by the CIA and U.S. Air Force were nothing short of extreme: the drone had to reach speeds of Mach 3.3–3.5, an operational altitude of 87,000–95,000 feet, and needed a fuel range of 3,000 nautical miles. Any modern-day engineer would tell you that such a project would still be daunting today, but Johnson had made a career out of accomplishing the seemingly impossible — often with little more than a hand ruler and scratch paper for calculations.
His D-21 design could meet all the requirements set out for him, but in order to achieve such high speeds at such high altitudes, he had to use a ramjet engine that couldn’t function until it was already flying high in the sky. As a result, plans were drawn up to deploy the drone from a variant of the A-12, dubbed the M-21 Blackbird.
Just in case you didn’t think the SR-71 could ever look cooler.
With a wingspan of just over 19 feet and a length of nearly 43 feet, the D-21 looked a lot like someone had just hacked the end off of one of the A-12’s wings, making the M-21 a matching aesthetic choice, if nothing else.
The D-21 carried a single high-resolution camera that would snap photos over a pre-programmed flight path. It would then eject the film canisters, which would drift down via parachute and float in water. The plan was to capture these canisters in the air, with Navy ships positioned to retrieve them from the water as a backup. The drone itself would then self-destruct to avoid being captured and reverse-engineered.
The first three test flights of the D-21 from the M-21 Blackbird went smoothly, but on the fourth attempt, the drone experienced an “asymmetric unstart” passing through the bow wake of its M-21 mothership. The two aircraft collided in mid-air at the blistering speed of Mach 3.25. Both pilots managed to eject, but one ultimately drowned before he could be rescued. The decision was made to scrap the M-21 mothership strategy and instead deploy the D-21 from beneath the wings of the B-52H bomber.
Modified D-21 drones on a B-52H Bomber
After a number of failures, Lockheed’s D-21 completed its first successful B-52H-launched flight in June of 1968 and soon, the program moved into operational reconnaissance flights over China.
In all, four D-21s were launched from B-52Hs and sent into Chinese airspace on reconnaissance missions. Two of the drones completed their flights, but either failed to eject their film, or the film was deemed irretrievable. The other two flights were either shot down or simply disappeared shortly after launch.
Despite their failures over China, the D-21 program was significantly ahead of its time. A Mach-3 capable drone with an operational ceiling of 90,000 feet was an unheard of proposition in its day and remains impressive even in this new era of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The program was ultimately canceled on July 15, 1971, with the B-52s converted for use in the program returned to operational service.
US military troops in Afghanistan have begun working with smaller Afghan units to prepare them for a more aggressive offensive against the Taliban next year in a push to break the stalemate in the 16-year-old war, the top US commander for the Middle East said Oct. 12.
While acknowledging there is still much more to be done, Army Gen. Joseph Votel sounded a more optimistic tone, saying he is seeing some positive trends in the Afghan’s fight.
As more older Afghan commanders leave or are pushed out of their posts, younger leaders are taking over, he said, adding that the forces are conducting more operations and going on the offensive more often. As a result, he said, officials are seeing the number of casualties start to go down.
“I think we’re still very keen to break the stalemate and that’s what this effort is about here,” Votel told reporters at his US Central Command headquarters. “I’m not declaring victory here with this – but I think some of the steps we’ve taken … are positive steps that are moving us in that direction to break the stalemate.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that he still considers the war a stalemate. But he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis assured lawmakers that the plan to increase US forces in Afghanistan and beef up military support to the Afghan units will pay off.
Congress members, however, have expressed skepticism and frustration with the Pentagon, and complained that they haven’t gotten enough information on the administration’s new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan and bringing greater stability to the broader region.
President Donald Trump in August approved a Pentagon plan to deploy as many as 3,800 additional US forces to Afghanistan, where there are already more than 11,000 serving. The additional American forces will be used to increase efforts to advise and assist Afghanistan’s forces, including putting advisers with smaller Afghan battalions, which they call Kandaks. Doing so puts American troops closer to the fight, but military leaders say it will allow them to better help the Afghans improve their ability to fight insurgents.
Votel said the advisers will help those Afghan units get ready for next year’s fighting season.
The US troops would also be used to beef up US counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda and a growing Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban and other extremist groups.
The added American troops have already started moving into Afghanistan, including a significant number of Army soldiers and some Air Force personnel who went in with an extra six F-16 fighter jets. The Pentagon, however, has repeatedly refused to even provide estimates of how many of the additional troops have deployed, despite promises that the department will be more transparent with the American people about how many US service members are serving there, in harm’s way.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him on Oct. 11 that more than a dozen NATO allies have agreed to boost their commitments to Afghanistan, although some may just be a symbolic increase.
The Taliban, meanwhile, continues to be a resilient enemy, launching a series of high profile attacks — including a recent rocket assault at the airport in Kabul while Mattis was on the ground in the country.
Mattis and other senior leaders say they need to increase the military effort in the country in order to force the Taliban to the negotiating table where they can get a political resolution to the war. On Oct. 12, Votel said he is hopeful and believes that peace talks are possible.
Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.
All good things must come to an end — including deployments. While getting out-of-country is the only goal, troops have a checklist of tasks that must be completed before they’re finally allowed to reunite with their families back home.
No one likes doing any of these tasks, especially when they’re already checked-out mentally.
6. Training up your replacements.
Meeting the new unit that comes in-country is the first sign that your deployment is almost over.
Getting people who are busy preparing for departure to teach the newbies that are completely lost is never an easy task, but hey, that’s the military.
5. Cleaning gear
In the Ancient Greek legend of Sisyphus, the protagonist is cursed with the never-ending task of rolling a boulder up a mountain just for it to roll down the hill when he nears the top.
This is much like the never-ending struggle of troops trying to sweep all of the dirt out of the motor pool in the desert. Sweep as you might, it’ll never end. It’ll get just good enough for inspection until it’s time to finally get out of country.
4. Sending gear back stateside
All of the troubles of selecting what you need and don’t need happens all over again — but in reverse. You’ll be putting gear away that you won’t see for a few months. It’s a fine idea for the extra parts of your sleeping system, but people who bring or buy video game consoles while deployed now have to worry about bringing it back home.
Of course, if you really wanted to make things easier (and you have the money for it), you could always use the postal service to send a tough box or two with your useful stuff.
Traveling through customs in the civilian world is a cinch. Flash your passport, fill out a form, and don’t bring anything that’ll set off any alarms.
Did you know that gunpowder residue trips U.S. Customs’ sensors? Damn near every combat arms troop does, too — all of our gear is covered in gunpowder residue. Even though we’re carrying our weapons with us, they’ll still look at you funny for that gunpowder residue.
2. The flight
It’s like being a kid on Christmas Eve again. Just a few more hours and you get what you want. You know you should probably catch some sleep on the plane but your blood is pumping too much.
All of the “whatever amount ofdays and a wake-up” are now in hours. Minutes. Seconds. You watch the GPS tracker on the plane more than the actual in-flight movies. The anxiety builds; landing can’t come soon enough.
1. That. Last. Formation. Before. Freedom.
Quick show of hands: Out of the countless times commanders have given a passionate speech to the friends and families of returning troops, how many are remembered by the troops?
Those months kind of fly by, but the last speech — you know, the one that starts with, “these fine gentlemen before you…” — goes in one ear and out the other. The only thing troops are focusing on is if they can find their loved ones in the crowd.