Now, with 2017 coming to a close, many people are wondering what 2018’s biggest global threats will be.
The Council on Foreign Relations recently released their list of the top global threats to watch in 2018 and it covers brewing crises around the world.
CFR asked experts to rank 30 ongoing or potential conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating in the next year. These experts identified eight “top-tier” risks, many of which involve the U.S.
President Donald Trump may have to handle some of these crises next year:
8. Military conflict involving the U.S., North Korea, and its neighboring countries
Not surprisingly, North Korea makes the list.
With Kim Jong Un showing no signs at all of slowing down his missile program, and his increasingly brazen missile tests and strong rhetoric warning of total destruction, the situation on the Korean Peninsula hasn’t been this tense since the 1950’s.
7. An armed confrontation between Iran and the U.S. or one of its allies.
CFR cites Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts and support of militant proxy groups, including the Yemeni Houthis and Lebanese Hezbollah, as a potential source of a confrontation.
Coupled with Iran’s recent announcement that it will support “resistance groups” after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, conflict with Iran seems as possible as ever.
6. A highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure and networks.
Not surprisingly, the CFR believes that cyber attacks against the U.S. require the utmost attention.
This year saw cyber attacks from Iran, North Korea, and Russia against targets like government agencies, banks, and militaries all around the world, and with the NSA coming under a number of high-profile attacks this year, cyber attacks will be something to look out for.
5. A military confrontation between Russia and NATO members.
A confrontation between Russia and NATO members, either deliberate or unintended, never stopped being possible.
Just this year, Russia’s has quietly expanded the border of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia illegally, and continues to foment the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region that has killed over 10,000 people.
Though these are non-NATO countries, some fear it is only a matter of time before Russia tries to see what it can get away with in Eastern Europe — especially since Syria will no longer be the Russian military’s biggest focus.
4. An armed confrontation over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea.
Recently, China has become increasingly aggressive against Taiwan — both in terms of actions and rhetoric. It has worried Japan as well.
3. A mass casualty terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or a treaty ally.
CFR notes that the terrorist could be either foreign or homegrown. Lone-wolf style attacks, where the perpetrator has no connection to terrorist organizations apart from an appreciation of the ideology, could also be cause for concern.
2. Intensified violence in Syria as government forces attempt to regain control over territory.
Though the Syrian Civil War seems like it is in an ending phase, with ISIS losing almost all of its territory, it is important to remember that the fight against ISIS was only one part of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands.
CFR notes there are still heightened tensions among external parties to the conflict, including the U.S., Russia, and Iran.
What will happen when the Syrian Arab Army tries to defeat rebels in other parts of the country, as well as what will the Syrian government do about the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, is unknown, as is a potential U.S. response to hostilities.
1. Increased violence and instability in Afghanistan.
CFR is specifically worried about the increasingly strong Taliban insurgency and a potential collapse of the Afghan government. ISIS has also recently made its mark in the country.
The Trump administration appears concerned about developments there and is redeploying thousands of troops to Afghanistan.
Time will tell if the Trump administration’s efforts will help, or just put off a collapse of the Afghan government.
Predicting the future through popular fiction is always a headache. One specific (and inevitable) war, however, has been the setting for many works of exploratory fiction. Everyone has come up with their own unique twist on how the World War Trilogy is going to end because global audiences demand an over-the-top-ending to their trilogies.
Video games set in a fictional World War III span the range of plausibility and, accordingly, audience reception. Early games, like 1981’s Missile Command, were simple enough as to not raise eyebrows and breathtaking, modern games, like Battlefield 4 and Arma 3, take a more down-to-earth approach.
But then there are the absolutely ridiculous games that hinge on insane premises, like that the next World War will involve us fighting our would-be robot overlords by the distant year 2010.
6. Terminator: Salvation (2009)
Yes, we were not-so-subtly pointing at this game. To the Terminator franchise’s credit, they were pretty optimistic about how advanced future technology would be back when the series kicked off in 1984.
But when this game references its own timeline as being “13 years after Judgement Day,” which, according to the films, was on Aug. 29, 1997, they effectively put all of one year between the game’s release and the over-the-top, dystopian futurescape… there’s just no excuse for that silliness.
We could forgive the game’s plot if it wasn’t so bad… even by 2009 standards.
5. Chromehounds (2006)
Like some of the other games on this list, alternate history is used to explain away inconsistencies. Chromehounds is a giant robot simulator that pits three fictional nations against each other that are totallynot based on America, the USSR, and the Middle East.
You could customize your mech and choose a nation to fight under in real time against other players. The game was enjoyable while it lasted, but the servers shut down in 2010.
The world needs more customizable mech simulators.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Compared to many of the other first-person shooters set in WWIII, Call of Duty: MW3 upped the ante. Sure, the story follows many of the standard tropes for WWIII — some Russian guy is evil, Europe gets invaded again, and *gasp* nuclear war is threatened.
What made 2011’s installment of Call of Duty so spectacular was that, during the single-player campaign, you got to live out all the action in various roles throughout the world. You play as several characters, all with unique backstories, while you hunt down the big bad.
The ending is just so, so satisfying.
3. Homefront: The Revolution (2016)
Based off the premise that North Korea takes over the world, this game is set in an alternate history where the hermit kingdom’s tech industry isn’t as laughable as it is in our timeline. The game places you in a Red Dawn-esque world where you need to start an underground resistance against Communist invaders.
The game wasn’t without faults — mainly in the narrative and character-development departments — but immersive open-world gameplay, complete weapon customization, and a level of difficulty that made you think through every action made the game stand out.
2. Raid Over Moscow (1984)
Cold War-era games about the Cold War were the best. Originally released on the Commodore 64, Raid Over Moscow‘s story begins when three Soviet nukes launch and you’re the only space-pilot able to stop it. You fight your way through to the Kremlin (which, apparently, was the missile silo for all of the USSR’s nukes) before blowing it up. The most unbelievable thing about this game is that it goes out of its way to explain that America can’t just nuke them back because all US nukes were dismantled.
At the time, the game was fairly controversial. European nations were uneasy about selling a game that directly portrayed the destruction of the Kremlin. Unfortunately for them, the controversy only made European citizens want the game more.
Ahh, the good ol’ days when people feared 8-bit graphics could start an international incident.
1. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (2001)
No WWIII game comes close to offering the same level of enjoyment and ridiculousness as Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. To cut a very long and very confusing story short, Albert Einstein creates a time machine to kill a young Hitler. This leads the Soviets to grow unchecked and, in their liberty, research mind-control technology. And that’s just the first game.
This time around, you need to fight a psychic Rasputin stand-in — or you could choose to play as the Soviets. This game and its expansion pack, Yuri’s Revenge, are considered classics. You’ll need to play through it to understand, really.
The silly live-action cutscenes just make the game that much more hilarious.
In the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang, many locals read endlessly, write often, and sing loudly.
But not by choice.
In extrajudicial indoctrination camps around Xinjiang, ethnic Uighur men and women are forced to study Chinese history, write personal reflections, and sing songs like “Without the Communist Party, there is no New China.” Many are beaten, tortured, and are unable to go home.
China considers this process “re-education.” It runs outside the court system with people dragged away for infringements like talking to a loved one overseas or having a beard, and there is no course for appeal.
A recent estimate put the number of people who have been, or are currently, interned since April 2017, in the hundreds of thousands, or even just over one million.
Though the exact total is unknown, Adrian Zenz, a social researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, pored over local job ads and government bids to find new evidence of the system’s existence and scale.
Since 2016, there were government bids to construct or upgrade 73 facilities in Xinjiang that, despite various names, appeared as though they will operate, wholly or at least in part, as re-education centers.
Re-education centers are often disguised as vocational training hubs, as many were in these bids, but the details betray their hidden purpose.
Together, the facilities required guard rooms, video surveillance, security fences, police equipment, police living quarters, handheld security inspection devices, steel-reinforced concrete walls, and even iron chains.
“Many of these facilities are heavily secured, to an extent that they do not just aim to keep potential intruders out, but to keep those inside under tight surveillance.” Zenz told Business Insider.
Twenty bids listed new or upgraded monitoring or video surveillance. One bid from January 2018, wanted 122 cameras to cover the whole facility without leaving any “dead angles.”
One center required security nets, the renovation of a guard room, and “four watchtowers.” Another, submitted on April 25, 2018, requested an 86,000 square-foot “underground facility.”
These security features, according to Zenz, confirm reports that vocation centers frequently function as internment camps, though many facilities likely sit on a continuum.
“All we know is that a substantial number of facilities, likely capable of holding at least several hundred thousand, are geared more towards the re-education side. Some are explicitly and directly marked as re-education facilities. More than likely, facilities with a stronger vocational training focus can likewise hold several hundred thousands,” said Zenz.
“Some even specifically state that they are designed to perform ‘re-education.’ An official government notice from April 2017, pertaining to these facilities in a particular prefecture mandated that training topics include military drill, Chinese language, legal knowledge, ethnic unity, religious knowledge and patriotic education.”
Job ads are also a huge giveaway
As easy as it may be to silently whisk away thousands of people to new re-education centers, skyrocketing prisoner would also require a huge recruitment drive.
According to Zenz, from May 2017, counties with large ethnic minority populations “initiated a wave of recruitments” for so-called education and training centers.
But ads for such staff were often listed in the same ads as open police positions, and some ads even preferred recruitees with a military or police background.
Other job ads conflated the two roles, hiring “training center policing assistants.” If the staff were being hired to work at a regular vocation center the high number of security personnel would be “difficult to explain,” said Zenz.
Ads also frequently lacked required skills or qualifications that would normally be crucial to providing vocational training. Many required only a middle-school education whereas other provinces, where few Uighur would live, usually require at least a bachelor degree.
In one Xinjiang country, where Uighurs make up 95% of the population, 320 jobs available at a “training center” had three criteria: have a middle-school education, be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, and be part of the ethnic majority Han.
Re-education isn’t the only problem Uighurs face
In an attempt to crack down on religious extremism, authorities in Xinjiang have targeted almost any form of religious expression by Uighur Muslims.
Women have been banned from wearing burqas and veils. Residents were barred from fasting during Ramadan with restaurants ordered to stay open despite religious obligations. And in 2016, millions of Xinjiang residents were ordered to surrender their passports and must seek permission to travel abroad.
Authorities have installed surveillance apps on residents’ phones and begun collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types from all Xinjiang residents aged between 12 and 65. They have also collected voice samples that may be used to identify who is speaking on tapped phone calls.
Just before the end of January 2018, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) announced that it had deployed its first operational F-35 at Misawa Air Base.
Misawa Air Base is shared by the JASDF and the U.S. Air Force, and located in the northernmost part of Japan’s Aomori Prefecture.
“The F-35A will bring transformation in air defense power and significantly contribute to the peace for citizens and ensure security,” JASDF 3rd Air Wing Commander Major General Kenichi Samejima said.
“All service members will do their best to secure flight safety and promptly establish an operational squadron structure step-by-step.”
American officials at the base also welcomed the development, with the commander of the U.S.’s 35th Fighter Wing, Colonel R. Scott Jobe, saying that U.S. pilots “look forward to training alongside our JASDF counterparts and continuing to enhance the safety and security of Japan together.”
Japan has reportedly been mulling replacing the helicopters on their Izumo-class helicopter carrier with the short vertical take-off and landing (SVTOL) variant of the F-35 that is fielded by the U.S. Marine Corps, something that China has warned against.
The Air Force is giving its historic B-52 bomber a massive weapons enhancement by engineering an upgrade to the aircraft’s internal weapons bay, which promises to substantially enhance its attack mission options.
The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing. This initiative not only increases the weapons delivery capacity for the bomber but also enables it to accommodate a wider swath of modern weapons.
IWBU uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, service officials said.
“The B-52 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade provides internal J-series (smart) weapons capability through modification of Common Strategic Rotary Launchers and upgrade of aircraft software,” Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Emily Grabowski told Warrior Maven.
The B-52 has previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU, the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting-edge, precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.
Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior Maven that the IWBU effort will bring a 66-percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52.
Service developers also explain that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.
The move is a key modernization step for the Air Force which, for many known reasons, no longer views the B-52 in its historic role as a “carpet bombing” aircraft. The demands and challenges of modern warfare, both counterinsurgency as well as the possible force of large-scale mechanized warfare, now require precision. This weapons upgrade will help expedite the integration of an even larger arsenal of precision-guided or (smart) weapons, as Grabowski explained.
While the B-52 can, of course, still blanket an area with bombs should it need to do so, more likely challenges in a modern threat environment would doubtless use long-range sensors, guided weapons, or even lasers to achieve both greater standoff and precision in possible engagements.
Also, given that the size and “not-so-stealthy” configuration of the B-52, it is primarily intended to operate in areas where the US Air Force already has air supremacy. Longer range, more precise Russian-built air defenses would also be expected to pose a significant threat to even high-altitude bombing missions.
Given the fast pace of advances in command and control technology, manned-unmanned teaming, and artificial intelligence, it is entirely feasible that manned bombers, such as the B-52, will soon be able to control nearby drones from the air. (A former Air Force Chief Scientist discussed this at great length in previous interviews with Warrior Maven.)
The first increment of IWBU integrates an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well.
Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios, and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.
The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons, and technologies, Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of multiple interviews with program managers in recent years
Who doesn’t love to watch the latest James Bond movie and fantasize what it must be like to use high-tech gadgets, sneak into secret bases and be the ultimate agent with a “license to kill?” A recent Netflix binge-watching “Churchill’s Secret Agents” a reenactment of British Special Operations Executive (SOE) training from World War II showed us that this secret network was way cooler than we ever thought.
Founded in July 1940 when England faced the very real possibility of invasion by Nazi Germany, Henry Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare and brainchild of the new force, envisioned highly-skilled spooks able to hide among local populations and inflict damage from behind enemy lines. Specializing in unconventional warfare which until then was not a common tactic of modern armies, SOE was tasked with sabotage, espionage and reconnaissance missions to disrupt the influence and spread of Nazi Germany and her allies. Long before the foundation of Special Forces, these daring men and women helped turn the tide of the war at a time when victory was far from certain.
The success of a secret agent relied heavily on your ability to appear completely harmless. Small but mighty was not, but totally should have been, the official body type slogan. In the series, not only were pocket-sized people accepted but preferred to their beefcake counterparts.
Taking into consideration the scenarios of an SOE agent, trying to bluff your way past Nazi guards as a woman in a floral dress seems far easier than that of an able-bodied man of fighting age. Few armies outside of the Soviets put women on the front lines and so the average German Soldier would not have detected any threat.
The show’s cast was composed of an eclectic mix who tackled operational tests quite differently, as would any drafted agent of the SOE. Grandmother Debbey Clitheroe was an unlikely front runner, but through the assessments overcame fears to become a favorite in the eyes of the instructors. Her best cover was the unlikelihood that she could ever be a threat.
Other top-ranking contestants hailed from ordinary fields like “math graduate” or “researcher” showing us that there was plenty more to espionage than close-hand combat and looking great in a tux.
Real agents relied on trustworthiness and a subtle way of doing things to build their networks. Accounts of spy networks during World War II are fascinating reads, including characters from all walks of life. There was, quite likely, a butcher, baker and candlestick maker somewhere in the mix, all pulling weight for the effort.
Double taps and shooting from the hip were highly unlikely to ever be taught at any gun course or any field manual in 1940. Unchivalrous but effective was what gave a single agent the advantage on a run-in with a pair or group of soldiers.
SOE’s impact on the war effort was immense, especially leading up to and during the Allied Invasion of Normandy. The Allies had been planning to invade France as early as 1942 and British Agents, along with their American counterparts in the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA), were airdropped into occupied France to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign. The first SOE agents made their way into France in 1941 and quickly linked up with the French Resistance. From blowing up strategic railway tracks reinforcing the Normandy region with German troops to cutting telephone lines key to Germany communication efforts, SOE and their French allies caused chaos in the lead up to “D-Day.” SOE’s handiwork behind enemy lines was critical in ensuring the Allied spearhead into France did not fail.
The ingeniousness of what was taught and invented for SOE operatives became material to inspire films like James Bond. Everything from exploding pens to rat bombs were unconventional tools for unconventional warfare.
Although SOE’s usefulness was questioned as the war came to a close and the organization would be disbanded, the battlefield contributions of the agents would have an enormous impact on England, and the West’s perspective in the post-war world.
The need for an unconventional force capable of operating behind enemy lines quickly became a necessity as the Cold War highlighted the frequency of smaller wars rather than massive, highly detailed battlefields seen during World War II.
The lineage of today’s Special Forces and their tactics and procedures can be traced back to the framework laid by the SOE agents operating in occupied Europe. The men and women of SOE made enormous sacrifices by going where few dared to go to rid the world of tyranny by any means necessary.
Raise your hand if you’ll be applying for the next season.
New details have emerged about several Iranian women recently arrested in Iran for posting videos of themselves dancing on social media – arrests that have sparked an international social media backlash.
A person familiar with the situation told VOA Persian that authorities arrested Instagram star Maedeh Hojabri and two other young women who posted popular dancing videos.
Hojabri, a 19-year-old from Tehran, had built a large following on Instagram, posting clips of herself dancing at home to popular Western and Iranian music. Some reports said her account had attracted 600,000 followers before being suspended. In recent days, fans have used other Instagram accounts bearing Hojabri’s name to share her video clips. But she has not posted any clips herself since her arrest.
The source identified the other two women as Elnaz Ghasemi and Shadab, whose last name was not known. Videos of both women have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube.
The source said all three women were released on bail after three days, but also were required to appear on Iranian state TV as part of a public shaming. One of them, Ghasemi, has since left Iran, while Hojabri has been barred from doing so and Shadab’s whereabouts are unknown.
Aired early July 2018, a state TV program named “Wrong Path” showed images of several young woman whom it said had violated the moral norms of the Islamist-run state.
One of the women, whose face was obscured, answered an interviewer’s questions about why she posted dancing videos on social media. The woman, whom fans identified as Hojabri, said she made the videos for those fans, not intending to encourage them to do to the same.
Rights activists said Hojabri’s appearance in the program represented a forced confession of wrongdoing – a tactic that they say Iran often uses to stifle dissent.
There have been no reports in Iranian state media of the arrest of Hojabri and the other two women or the charges against them.
But the U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said the head of Tehran’s cyberpolice, Touraj Kazemi, made an announcement coinciding with the broadcast of “Wrong Path” that people who post “indecent” material online would be pursued for crimes against national security.
Since Hojabri’s arrest became apparent from her state TV appearance, Iranian women and men inside and outside the country have led a social media backlash, expressing support for the teenager by sharing videos of themselves dancing and using the hashtag #dancing_isnt_a_crime in Farsi.
Rights group Amnesty International joined the backlash on July 9, 2018, tweeting a video of its female campaigners doing a solidarity dance on a London street.
Iran’s Islamist laws only forbid women from dancing in public and in front of men who are not close relatives.
But the growing popularity of social media videos of Iranian woman dancing at home has prompted authorities in Iran to crack down on that phenomenon as well. In recent months, Iranian authorities have vowed to take action against Instagram celebrities they deem to have posted vulgar or obscene videos.
The ship includes 12 fully-equipped operating rooms and capacity for 1,000 beds. It is usually manned by 71 civilians and up to 1,200 Navy medical and communications personnel.
March 29: President Trump saw off the Comfort as it left its port in Virginia to sail up to New York City. He remarked that it was a “70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York.”
March 30: The Comfort arrived in New York City the next day, a white beacon of hope for a city that had at the time seen more than 36,000 cases and 790 deaths. That number has since grown to more than 138,000 cases and 9,944 deaths.
April 2: The ship is up and running. The New York Times reported that it had accepted just 20 patients on its first day and that it wasn’t taking any coronavirus patients.
Michael Dowling, the head of New York’s largest hospital system, called the Comfort a “joke.” He told The Times: “It’s pretty ridiculous. If you’re not going to help us with the people we need help with, what’s the purpose?”
Cmdr. Lori Cici, left, and Lt. Akneca Bumfield stand by for an inbound ambulance carrying a patient arriving for medical care aboard aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort on April 9.
That same day, before the ship started taking coronavirus patients, a crew member tested positive for the disease. This is despite the fact that the crew was ordered to quarantine for two weeks before their departure.
That number grew to four in the following weeks. All of the sick crew members have since recovered and are back to work, a Navy spokesman later told The Virginian-Pilot.
April 21: Even after moving to take coronavirus patients, the Comfort didn’t come close to reaching capacity — even as the city’s hospitals remained overwhelmed. As of Tuesday, the ship had treated a total of 179 patients.
During a meeting with the president, Cuomo said that New York no longer needed the Comfort and said it could be sent to a more hard-hit area.
Trump said he had taken Cuomo up on his offer and would recall the Comfort to its home port in Virginia, where it will prepare for its next posting. The new mission remains unclear.
Trump admitted during a White House briefing that part of the reason the ship was never put to much use in New York City was because its arrival coincided with the opening of a temporary hospital in the Javits convention center.
Meanwhile, the situation in New York appears to be improving. Last Saturday Cuomo said New York may be “past the plateau” with hospitalizations on the decline. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he’s seeing “real progress.”
Whether she’d posted a personal-best time or suffered a collision on the track, Emily Sweeney would flash her trademark smile to fans, media, or anyone who watched her compete. Even when sliding during frigid winter storms in challenging conditions, the New York National Guard Soldier kept smiling.
But for six months during the winter and spring of 2014, that bright-eyed grin couldn’t hide bitter disappointment.
A charismatic Olympic hopeful, Sweeney had entered the 2013 World Cup season as a favorite to make the 2014 Winter Games. When Sweeney lost the final spot on the 2014 U.S. Luge Team, missing the Olympics for the second time, she shut herself off from the sport to which she had dedicated most of her life.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long and it’s something that’s very tangible for me,” said Sweeney, who in December, finally qualified to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
For Sweeney, the road to PyeongChang could be described as anything but easy.
Tough matchup hits close to home
Photos and murals of past Olympians adorn the walls of the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center. Medals of previous Olympic greats in bobsled, figure skating, and luge sit encased in the facility’s trophy room.
Some former Olympic competitors still work at the facility, including former silver medalist Gordy Sheer, Team USA’s director of marketing and sponsorship. Sweeney, like other Olympic hopefuls, spent much of her youth here.
As a seven year old, Emily idolized her older sister, Megan, who competed in the luge program at the junior levels. She later joined the USA Luge program herself, after participating in a “slider search” in Rhode Island at age 10. Her sister remained a hero to her.
“I wouldn’t be here or be the person I am today without her,” Emily said. “I was really pushed by Megan from early on because I saw the potential of what I could be through her and that was really inspiring to me.”
After she turned 16, Sweeney showcased tremendous speed on luge tracks across the globe. And she demonstrated enormous potential in the sport in her first year competing.
During the 2009 World Cup season, Sweeney began competing at a higher level. She built her luge resume by nabbing Norton Junior World Champion honors and earning bronze medals at the Junior World Cup in Winterberg, Germany and a gold medal at Park City, Utah.
And during the 2009 season, Emily began to beat her older sister and some of her national team peers during practice runs and some competitions. During one World Cup competition in Park City, Utah, she called her parents with concerns about competing with her sister and hero.
“She was very upset,” said Sweeney’s mother, Sue. “She was worried that she was going to beat Megan in the race and it would be the end of Megan’s (Olympic bid).”
Dreams of the Olympics, of course, had always been on her sister’s mind, and her own as well.
“I’ve always wanted that moment of walking in on opening ceremonies,” said Sweeney. “That is the epitome of what I want … to walk in with my whole team and have ‘USA’ on our backs.”
Later that year, during the final World Cup competition in Lillehammer, the final two spots for the 2010 Olympic team came down to two competitors. Both wore the name “Sweeney” on their uniforms.
Jarred by the prospect of beating her idol, the sisters made a pact to leave everything on the floor on their next competition.
Emily went on to lose to her sister in a race off at the Olympiacenter in Norway, falling by two tenths of a second. Due to a medical waiver, another team member took the final spot for the 2010 Vancouver team, while Emily remained on stand-by as an Olympic alternate. Emily still traveled to British Columbia to cheer on her sister from the stands.
“Going to the Olympics and watching her was difficult,” Emily said. “I’m glad I went, I’m glad I supported her. I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But it was tough standing on the other side of the track watching my dream happen.”
After she missed a shot at Vancouver, Emily would make a life decision that would set the foundation for life after luge.
An athlete and a soldier
Jack Sweeney, Emily’s grandfather, had long been an inspiration in Emily’s life. While she would prepare meals for him, he’d relay stories to her about his days in the Navy. Emily said her grandfather instilled in her a sense of pride for her country and also inspired her to join the Army National Guard.
Joining the military sparked a change in Emily. She often took a leadership role during basic combat trainng at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She did the same during her advanced individual training there, where she learned to be a military policeman. She even graduated with honors from the Army’s military police school.
Once in the Army, Emily also opted to join the World Class Athlete Program.
“I thought it was a great avenue of opportunity,” Emily said of her decision to join the Army. “I knew I wanted to continue being an athlete, but I didn’t want to only be an athlete. I wanted something else to pursue beyond my athletic career.”
After joining the Guard, Emily became more of a leader for USA Luge as well, not only competing for the program, but also helping the program identify and recruit talented youth to the sport during talent searches.
Sochi slips away
Around Thanksgiving 2013, Sweeney knew it. Her parents, as they checked at the World Cup standings online also knew: Emily would not be competing at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
A season that began with promise, instead led to complications with her sled, dealing with minor injuries and slower finish times on the World Cup circuit.
After her final races had finished for 2013, Sweeney sat in her hotel room. Her boyfriend, Italian luge team member Dominik Fischnaller, brought her a cup of her favorite ice cream.
And then for six months, Sweeney walked away from the sport to which she had dedicated a great chunk of her childhood. Instead of weight training and spending hours on the track, Sweeney removed herself from any luge or exercise activities. Instead, she retreated to her home in Lake Placid and contemplated her future in the sport.
“I went from being an Olympic hopeful, training at 100 percent,” Emily said, “to just stopping everything.
“I was really at a point where I said, ‘What’s the point?’ What’s the point of doing this if I’m not getting the results I’m wanting?’ It took a while, I closed myself off.”
She began working as a waitress and hostess at local restaurants. And while she’d visit her ailing grandfather in neighboring Saranac Lake, she mostly cut herself off from family and dealt with struggles the best way she knew: internally.
“We lost her for a while,” Sue said. “It was tough. She didn’t even watch the (2014 Winter) Games.”
“Emily had to refine her sliding and her motivation,” Megan said. “It took her a long time. But I think that’s normal when you have a dream and become so disappointed … It was very, very tough because she knows she’s good.”
The Army gets her rolling
In May 2014, Emily remained withdrawn from the luge community. It would be just the wakeup call she needed to get back on track with her sport.
She received orders to attend Warrior Leader Course (now the Basic Leader Course) that spring at Fort Dix, New Jersey. During the month-long course, she took tests on her leadership skills, land navigation and various drills to prepare to become a noncommissioned officer .
After giving up her strict luge-related training routine and regular exercising, Emily had lost muscle mass. She’d dropped 20 pounds from her 5-foot-5-inch frame. As a result, for the first time since enlisting in the Guard, she failed to score a 300 on her Army Physical Fitness Test.
“(WLC) kind of pulled me out,” said Sweeney. “It gave me a schedule that I had to adhere to again. I kind of got back into the military mode and then after that I got back into my training.”
Shortly after graduating WLC, Sweeney resumed luge-related activities. She began lifting weights again, and changed her routine, and began working out at JEKL gym in Plainville, Connecticut. There Sweeney took part in grueling gymnastics-based training to strengthen her core muscles using various gymnastics apparatus pieces including rings, the high bar and parallel bars.
“It definitely put me in my place pretty quickly,” Sweeney said.
The old Emily had returned, away from the luge track too. She began reconnecting with friends. She spoke with family members more often.
And that familiar smile came back.
“Everybody always kids her about her smile — she always has a big smile on her face,” said her mother, Sue. “But it’s true — it’s part of who she is. Once you start to see her smile coming back, you know she’s starting to feel much more like herself.”
In December 2015, during World Cup competition on their home track in Lake Placid, Sweeney and teammates Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher swept the field. It marked the first time the U.S. women knocked out the dominant German team.
“We’re more of a force to be reckoned with now,” Sweeney said.
During a fall, Sweeney suffered injury to her wrist that required surgery in 2016, proving to be a minor setback. But she bounced back to stellar marks in 2017.
“The (wrist) injury really didn’t worry me,” USA Luge coach Bill Tavares said. “For her it was all mental. When I knew that she was mentally strong coming into this year then there was no worry on my part.”
Hitting her stride
The 4,242-foot luge course in Winterberg, Germany presents a daunting challenge to competitive lugers. Those who accept its challenge must enter the course’s labyrinth in near-perfect form. In November, Sweeney and her USA teammates traveled to Winterberg to face the mighty German team that built an Olympic juggernaut on this course.
At the track’s midpoint, a turn drops competitors into the labyrinth where sled speeds multiply.
After placing second earlier in the World Cup competition at on this track, mishaps on one of her runs sent Sweeney tumbling out of contention and she thought she missed her chance to clinch an Olympic berth.
But then she bounced back later that day to take her first World Cup gold in the sprint race, upsetting 2014 Olympic champion, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, on her home course. Instead, her shot at an Olympic berth would have to wait.
When dealing with the difficult highs and lows of competing against the best in the world, she turned to Grandpa Sweeney. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
“He’s probably a big part of her personality,” Sue said. “He’s always been one of her best friends. And she’s looked to him for advice.”
As Sweeney begins final preparations for the Winter Games, she will do so with a heavy heart. Jack Sweeney passed away at age 88 on Jan. 3. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
Olympian at last
Sweeney learned that she had reached the pinnacle of her career unceremoniously — not by an announcement on the track, or from posting a career-best time — but in a text.
Dec. 14, after having dinner with her parents and returning to the Lake Placid training facility, Sweeney received a message from her mother, Sue.
“See you in PyeongChang,” the text read.
Sweeney’s mother had been tracking the Nation’s Cup live stream on her phone. The Nation’s Cup was a pre-qualifying event for the World Cup later that week. Had Raychel Germaine qualified for the World Cup, she could have potentially knocked Emily out of Olympic competition. But she didn’t, and the final Olympic women’s luge slot went to Emily.
“It was just a peaceful moment,” Sweeney said, “I was stunned.”
She received congratulations from Fischnaller, her boyfriend of eight years. Then came a flood of 30 messages and well wishes from family, friends and teammates.
“I’m really happy for her,” teammate Summer Britcher said. “I know how hard she works. I’m very happy that she’s met this goal and I’m really excited to compete alongside her in (32) days.”
Sweeney will join 2014 Bronze medalist Hamlin and Britcher on the USA roster in PyeongChang in February. The impact of reaching her dream did not hit her until after finishing World Cup competition in the women’s sprint race Dec. 16, Sue Sweeney said.
A heavy snow blanketed Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg Dec. 16, and athletes faced a wind chill so bitter that exposed fingers and toes could feel like frozen blocks of ice. During the women’s sprint race, Sweeney posted an efficient run in these slick conditions, but a mishap at turn seven hurt her final time, eventually knocking her out of sprint qualification. Unfazed, she posted a better time in her second run.
The weight of realizing her Olympic dream began to creep in. Still clad in her helmet and orange and blue leotard, Sweeney waved to her 80 supporters, family and friends. And once more she flashed her wide grin.
“Emily’s missed two Olympic teams very narrowly,” Sheer said. “In 2014 … that was a real tough one for her. It takes a certain type of person to be able to bounce back from something like that and to be able to keep fighting and I give her all the credit in the world.”
Then after 15 minutes of speaking with local and national media members, Sweeney locked arms with her older sister, rosy-cheeked from the stinging wind chill. Standing amid swirling snowflakes, Megan whispered into her younger sister’s ear:
“I’m so proud of you,” Megan said.
Next stop: South Korea
When Emily dons the USA colors at PyeongChang next month, she knows he will be representing more than herself. She will also represent WCAP, the National Guard and the U.S. Army. Sweeney, who currently ranks eighth in the International Luge Federation women’s singles, will join fellow WCAP athletes Matt Mortensen in men’s doubles and singles competitor Taylor Morris.
At 24, the Olympics will wrap Sweeney’s fourteenth year in the sport and she plans to bring home a medal for her team.
“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” Sweeney said “I want to go to the Olympics and do something. So it’s not over — the work isn’t over.”
Following the deaths of four US soldiers in Niger earlier in October, several questions remain unanswered, spurring lawmakers to press the White House and Pentagon for answers on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Leading this charge is Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who says he may seek a subpoena to receive information on the attack, according to CNN.
On Wednesday, McCain said that the White House was not being upfront about the Niger ambush, and said he would like the information his committee “deserves and needs.”
“I haven’t heard anything about it, to tell you the truth, except that they were killed,” McCain said in a Daily Beast report on Tuesday.
Although the Special Forces unit involved in the ambush and US Africa Command (AFRICOM) — the combatant command in charge of operations in Niger — are conducting investigations, McCain indicated he may want details before the results.
“That’s not how the system works,” McCain said to CNN. “We’re coequal branches of government. We should be informed at all times.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly also dismayed by the dearth of information surrounding the ambush, but there was no sign that he was going to rush the investigation process multiple officials told CNN.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon claims it will keep the Armed Services Committees “up to date” on the ambush: “We will work with Sen. McCain and his staff to make sure they get everything that they need,” the Pentagon reportedly said on Thursday.
One of the primary questions that circulated in news reports has been why President Donald Trump had not addressed the casualties or the circumstances behind the ambush.
Following initial media reports of the ambush, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement saying that Trump had been informed of the incident. However, it wasn’t until 12 days later after the reports that Trump made his first public acknowledgment of the ambush.
A statement of condolence was reportedly drafted by a staffer from the National Security Council for Trump to immediately deliver following the ambush. But Trump never made the statement that was circulated around the Defense Department and the National Security Council. Instead, he delivered a speech that has been widely criticized for making false claims about his predecessors’ actions after a service member’s death and was condemned by a Gold Star father.
McCain also questioned why US troops were operating in that specific area of the Niger-Mali border without sufficient resources. French officials were frustrated with the US troops — who were there to establish relations with local leaders — because they acted on limited intelligence and didn’t have an emergency plan, a diplomat familiar with the incident told Reuters. France, a key US ally in the region, has a military presence that includes attack helicopters and Mirage jets, according to CNN.
While Special Forces troops have operated under AFRICOM’s purview for years, intelligence and contingency plans still remain the backbone of any mission US forces undertake. The investigation into the ambush — which spans the Special Forces group, AFRICOM, and the Pentagon as well as French and Nigerien forces — will likely take longer, given the broad scope of the mission.
Clifton Hoffler is an Army veteran and alumnus of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Comedy Bootcamp program. ASAP is an organization based in Virginia that builds communities for veterans, servicemembers, and military families through classes, performances, and partnerships in the arts. As part of their mission, ASAP offers a Comedy Bootcamp for veterans to explore and develop their comedic abilities.Clifton is a minister, chef, and Army veteran who served more than twenty years – including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, with the help of ASAP’s Comedy Bootcamp program, he’s adding standup comedian to his resume. For Clif, getting up on stage is another opportunity to adapt and overcome. It’s an important form of therapy and a way to better his health, and he encourages other veterans to learn to laugh because laughter “is the best medicine that’s out there.”
The US Navy made history on March 5, 2018, by putting to sea, for the first time ever, an aircraft carrier with F-35B jets.
And by deploying them in the Pacific, it’s a message China and North Korea are sure to hear loud and clear.
The US Marine Corps’s Fighter Attack Squadron 121 deployed aboard the USS Wasp, a smaller-deck aircraft carrier that used to operate harrier jump jets and helicopters before getting special modifications to field the F-35.
“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st MEU Commanding Officer in a US Navy press release. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground.”
The deployment marks the culmination of years of planning. Since its inception, the F-35 has been designed with the idea of accommodating short takeoff, vertical landing variants. Initially, the design compromises forced by the massive tail fan and unique capabilities caused complications, compromises, and long and expensive delays.
But the US has still beaten China, Russia, and the entire world to the punch with a navalized stealth fighter that can fight for air superiority, pull off precision strikes, penetrate enemy airspaces, and coordinate with the two US Navy guided-missile destroyers to guide ship-fired missiles to targets ashore.
The squadron aboard the Wasp has also trained heavily on a new set of tactics meant to keep the US dominant in the Pacific region. Leveraging the short-takeoff, vertical landing ability of the F-35B, the pilots and maintainers drilled on setting up improvised refuel and reloading points, and how to quickly restock the jet for battle, much like mechanics performing pit stops during NASCAR races.
Additionally, the F-35B has the option of equipping a gun and opening it up as a close-air-support platform to support Marines making a beach landing.
The result is a stealth fighter/bomber/reconnaissance jet well-suited to the Asia-Pacific region, which US adversaries, like China and North Korea, will be sure to recognize.
US competition in the region and around the world put on notice
“You’re about to put, for the first time ever, fifth-generation fighters on a ship at sea and put it into a highly contested area that is fraught with geopolitical risk and controversy and tensions,” retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35B squadron commander, previously told Business Insider.
“The implications of a fifth-generation airplane being in [the Pacific] is impossible to overstate,” he added. “They’re going to provide capability that nobody knows exists yet.”
As Beijing pushes on with its massive land grab in the South China Sea by militarizing artificial islands, intruding in territorial waters of its neighbors, and performing increasingly aggressive fighter jet drills around the Pacific, the F-35B deployment gives the US an advantage in terms of air power at sea.
China has struggled to field its own stealth jets that many see as an answer to US air power in the region.
North Korea, not a powerful nation in terms of air power, will now feel the added pressure of stealth jets it cannot track sitting near its shores in Okinawa or on deployment around the region.
Here’s a video of the F-35B landing vertically on the Wasp at sea:
“Thousands of our post-9/11 veterans carry the invisible burden of post-traumatic stress, and there is an overwhelming need to expand the available treatment options,” DeSantis said in a statement. “The VA should use every tool at their disposal to support and treat our veterans, including the specialized care offered by service dogs.”
The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act is a five-year, $10 million program to give post-9/11 veterans with a service dog and veterinary health insurance. The veteran must have been treated for PTSD and have completed an established evidence-based treatment. They must remain significantly symptomatic, rating a 3 or 4 on the PTSD scale.
Service dogs are known to be effective in treating veterans with anxiety disorders, physical pain, and other limitations. The animals are proven to give new life and independence to recovering veterans.