The United States Army is on the hunt for what they call, “Mobile Protected Firepower” — or, to put it in layman’s terms, the Army wants a light tank. For military buffs, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s been a big gap in capabilities since the M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996.
According to a report by the Army Times, the Army is now looking to rectify that gap in capabilities. The M1A2 Abrams tank brings tons of firepower and armored protection, but it can’t be dropped. You need a C-5 or C-17 to bring it to an airfield, and then it has to drive to the battlefield. Not good when you need the firepower right away.
As part of the Mobile Protected Firepower program, the Army is looking for a vehicle that weighs no more than 32 tons. The size of the main gun, however, is still up for determination — it could be a 57mm gun, a 105mm gun like the one on the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, or a 120mm gun like that on the Abrams.
Previously, the Army had been looking at the M8 Buford Armored Gun System as a replacement for the M551 in the early 1990s. The Buford has three levels of armor protection, a 105mm main gun, and has the ability to hold 30 rounds for the main gun — two thirds more than the Stryker Mobile Gun System.
The Buford, named for a Union cavalry general in World War II, was cancelled by the Clinton Administration in 1997 to pay for other programs. In the 1980s, a light tank called the Stingray, equipped with a 105mm main gun and 32 rounds, was developed by Cadillac-Gage. The Thai Army ordered 106 in the 1980s.
It could be very interesting to see if the Army’s choice in the Mobile Protected Firepower system will end up replacing the Stingray — and supplying other American allies. However, the first light tanks will not arrive until 2025, and even then, there will only be 54. Just enough, perhaps, to supply the 82nd Airborne Division with the tank battalion they once had.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the US not to “play with fire” in Syria after a massive escalation in violence took place on all sides of the multi-faceted conflict early February 2018.
“The US should stop playing very dangerous games which could lead to the dismemberment of the Syrian state,” Lavrov said at a Middle East conference in Moscow on Feb. 19, 2018, according to Bloomberg.
The US has already announced plans to keep Syria divided until UN-sanctioned elections can take place across Syria, and it’s made it clear it will respond with force when Russian, Iranian, or Syrian forces threaten that goal.
On Feb. 7, 2018, a group of pro-government fighters, who were reportedly majority Russian military contractors, launched what the US called an “unprovoked attack” on one of its positions in eastern Syria. The US responded with airstrikes and shelling killing between 100 and 300, according to a variety of reports.
US not going anywhere as hellish fighting ramps up on all sides
Lavrov also spoke of another front in the Syrian conflict, saying that he and his allies in Iran and Syria “are seeing attempts to exploit the Kurds’ aspirations,” a reference to the US’s support for Kurdish militias in northern Syria, who aspire to a state all their own.
Turkey views the Kurdish militia as part of a terror group and there is strong popular support in the country for an operation to clear the Kurds off its borders. Allegations of human rights abuses and shocking videos depicting violence against captured, unarmed Kurds have come out of the conflict in northern Syria as the US stands by its Kurdish ally, whom they credit for defeating ISIS in the region.
Turkey has announced its intentions to start shelling the Kurdish town of Afrin in the coming days.
Also during mid-February 2018, Israel launched a massive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria and lost an F-16 to Syrian air defenses. Syria and Russia now stand accused by an opposition figure of launching a “new holocaust” in rebel-held pockets of Syria, where some 98 people, including women and children, were reported killed on Feb. 19, 2018.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” UNICEF’s regional director Geert Cappalaere began a release on the Syrian government’s recent bombing campaign. UNICEF left part of the statement blank to express its frustration.
It’s unclear what “fire” Lavrov referenced in Syria, as the country has been in conflict for seven years.
What is clear is that the US has a new foreign policy direction in the country, and it isn’t afraid of fighting Iran, Syria, and Russia to keep Assad and Tehran out of power in the besieged country.
Enemy combatants lurking in tunnels have attacked US troops throughout history, including during both world wars, Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Detecting these secretive tunnels has been a challenge that has been answered by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s engineers at the Geotechnical and Structural Laboratory in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The lab developed the Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection system, or R2TD, several years ago, according to Lee Perren, a research geophysicist at ERDC who spoke at the Pentagon’s lab day in May.
R2TD detects the underground void created by tunnels as well as the sounds of people or objects like electrical or communications cabling inside such tunnels, he said. The system is equipped with ground penetrating radar using an electromagnetic induction system.
Additionally, a variety of sensors detect acoustic and seismic energy, he added.
The detection equipment data can then be transmitted remotely to analysts who view the data in graphical form on computer monitors.
The system can be carried by a soldier or used inside a vehicle to scan suspected tunnel areas, he said.
R2TD has been deployed overseas since 2014, he said. Feedback from combat engineers who used the system indicated they like the ease of use and data displays. It takes just a day to train an operator, Perren said.
Jen Picucci, a research mathematician at ERDC’s Structural Engineering Branch, said that technology for detecting tunnels has been available for at least a few decades.
However, the enemy has managed to continually adapt, building tunnels at greater depths and with more sophistication, she said.
In response, ERDC has been trying to stay at least a step ahead of them, continually refining the software algorithms used to reject false positives and false negatives, she said. Also, the system upgraded to a higher power cable-loop transmitter to send signals deeper into the ground.
The improvements have resulted in the ability to detect deeper tunnels as well as underground heat and infrastructure signatures, which can discriminate from the normal underground environment, she said.
Picucci said ERDC has shared its R2TD with the Department of Homeland Security as well as with the other military services and allies. For security reasons, she declined to say in which areas R2TD is being actively used.
Besides the active tunneling detection system, a passive sensing system employs a linear array of sensors just below the surface of the ground to monitor and process acoustic and seismic energy. These can monitored remotely, according to an ERDC brochure.
While current operations remain classified, ERDC field engineers have in the past traveled in to Afghanistan according to members of the team.
In 2011, for example, ERDC personnel set up tunnel detection equipment to search the underground perimeter of Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan, said Owen Metheny, a field engineer at ERDC who participated in the trip.
His colleague, Steven Sloan, a research geophysicist at ERDC in Afghanistan at the time, said the goal was to ensure safety at the camp.
“We make sure nobody is coming into the camp using underground avenues that normally wouldn’t be seen and wouldn’t be monitored,” Sloan said. “We check smaller isolated areas — usually areas of interests and perimeters.”
The researchers did a lot of traveling around Afghanistan.
“We travel to different regional commands and help out in the battle spaces of different military branches,” Sloan said. “We use geophysical techniques to look for anomalies underground. We look for things that stick out as abnormal that might indicate that there is a void or something else of interest. As we work our way through an area we look for how things change from spot to spot.”
“I really enjoy my job,” Metheny said. “I’m doing something for my country and helping keep people safe. Plus, where else could a bunch of civilians get to come to Afghanistan and look for tunnels?”
Two Marine veterans playing “Pokemon Go” in a Los Angeles suburb on Jul. 12 ended up catching an attempted murder suspect instead of a Pikachu.
Javier Soch and Seth Ortega were hunting Pokemon near a museum when they saw a man who appeared to be scaring a woman and her three sons, according to reporting in the Los Angeles Times. The Marines talked to the man, who was agitated but coherent. He asked for cigarettes and shelter and the Marines told him to check the local police station for help.
The Marines kept their eyes on the man as he walked off. “We kept our distance. We didn’t want to alert the guy and escalate the situation,” Soch told reporter Matt Hamilton.
The man interacted with two more families. He continued to act suspiciously but did not do anything illegal — at first.
“[We] walked across the street and the gentleman actually walks up and touches one of the children, one of the boys, his toe, and starts walking his way up to the knee,” Ortega told an ABC affiliate.
The veterans sprung into action. Soch stayed with the family while Ortega sprinted after the man. The man attempted to flee, but he couldn’t get away from the Marine.
He was arrested on suspicion of child annoyance, but the police then learned that the man had a warrant out for attempted murder in Sonoma, California. He will be extradited to face charges there.
As of Monday, Christopher Miller is the new (acting) Secretary of Defense. He is now responsible for the entire US military behemoth. A tough proposition, despite his experience navigating bureaucracy as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.
But Miller has a vast special operations background to assist him in his new position.
When the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11, Miller, who was a major at the time, was commanding a Special Forces company in 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group.
Army Special Forces primarily specialize in Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Direct Action, and Special Reconnaissance. Their ability to partner with a government or guerilla force and train, organize, and lead it to combat is what distinguishes the unit from the rest of America’s special operations forces.
A mere few days after the 9/11 attacks, Colonel John Mulholland, the then commander of the 5th Special Forces Group, sent Miller to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) with instructions to get the unit into the fight. SOCCENT is responsible for all special operations in the Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of operations, which is Central Asia and the Near and Middle East.
At the time, the Pentagon was somewhat at a loss on how to respond to the attacks. The shadow of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan loomed above the planning process. There was no question that the US military could pound to history Al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors. But a full-blown invasion would be susceptible to the same tactical and strategic woes the Soviets had encountered – fast forward 19 years, and this has become apparent.
So, the unconventional warfare approach gained traction in some planning circles. Why shouldn’t we send Special Forces teams with all the airpower they can handle to partner with friendly forces and defeat the enemy, a small group of planners asked.
Known as the “True Believers,” these men pushed for an unconventional warfare approach to Afghanistan. And they managed to persuade their superiors. The outcome was a sweeping campaign, with Special Forces soldiers, CIA operatives, and Tier 1 operators at the forefront, that defeated Al-Qaeda and drove the Taliban out of power.
In all of this, Miller was key in getting his unit to be a core part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Dagger, which led the fight. (If you wish to learn more about how that campaign was fought from a Special Forces perspective, Eric Blehm’s “The Only Thing Worth Dying For” offers a brilliant account.)
Miller went on to participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, as the commander of 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, Miller was responsible for all Special Forces operations in central Iraq in 2006 and 2007. All in all, he was responsible for 18 Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) and three Special Forces Operational Detachment Bravos (ODBs).
Interestingly, Miller’s appointment as the Secretary of Defense means that both the top civilian military leader and the top military leader, General Mark Miller, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are Special Forces qualified, both having served in the 5th Special Forces Group.
On a side note, like in General James Mattis’s case, the administration will have to obtain Congress’ approval in order for Miller to become a permanent Secretary of Defense. By law, no person who has served in active duty as a commissioned officer can be appointed as the secretary of defense within seven years of his separation from the service. Miller retired in 2014, so he is a year away from meeting the constitutional (non-waivered) requirements for the permanent position. With a new administration coming in, however, that might not be necessary.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO over how the alliance is funded and pressured other member states to increase defense spending.
In the process, he has made a number of misleading claims about NATO, distorting how it works and why it exists in the first place.
On July 12, 2018, Trump reiterated his criticism of NATO in a tweet, stating, “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia. They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!”
Trump added, “All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, on April 4, 1949, and was ratified by the United States in August 1949.
NATO is an alliance that was formed in the wake of World War II as the US and its allies sought to counter the Soviet Union’s growing influence in Europe and beyond.
The alliance was founded upon the notion of collective defense, meaning an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all of them. This is precisely why NATO, for example, rallied behind the US in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and has sent many troops to fight and die in places like Afghanistan over the years.
Collective defense requires collective spending
Accordingly, every NATO member state contributes to a relatively modest direct budget: a roughly id=”listicle-2586418750″.4 billion military budget and a 0 million civilian budget.
Overall, the US provides about 22% of this budget based off a formula that accounts for the national income of member states.
Beyond the direct budget, NATO came to an agreement in 2014 that each member state will increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective gross domestic product by 2024.
At present, NATO has 29 members and few have reached this goal — only five NATO members are expected to meet the 2% target by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the US spends roughly 3.6% of its GDP on defense, as its military budget in 2017 was approximately 8 billion.
There is no penalty for not reaching the 2% goal; it’s simply a guideline, and most member states have increased defense spending even if they haven’t reached that goal quite yet.
Moreover, NATO estimates collective defense spending among all member states will total more that 6 billion in 2018. US defense spending accounts for roughly 67% of this, but it’s also true the US has the highest defense budget in the world by far and this is linked to both its strong economy and internal politics.
President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stolenberg participate in a joint press conference, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Here’s Trump’s big issue with NATO
Trump wants other NATO member states to increase defense spending — and soon.
On July 11, 2018, he tweeted, “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”
There is an underlying truth to Trump’s criticism of NATO that the US spends a significant amount of money and provides an extraordinary amount of resources and manpower to the protection of Europe and Asia. But the US benefits a great deal from this, and US involvement in NATO has long helped it solidify its role as one of the globe’s leading powers, if not the most powerful country in the world.
Moreover, Trump’s remarks on NATO seem to suggest that Europe must pay the US for protection from Russia, when this is not how the alliance is meant to function. Not to mention, Trump already has a dubious relationship with Russia at a time when much of the world, especially Europe, is concerned about its aggressive military activities.
In this context, Trump’s criticism of NATO has been condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle in the US as well as by other world leaders and foreign policy experts.
Trump caused a crisis at the NATO summit over the issue of defense spending
Trump reportedly broke diplomatic protocol on July 12, 2018, by referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name, and his intense demands regarding defense spending saw NATO leaders enter a special emergency session.
After the session, Trump said NATO member states had agreed to quickly increase spending.
“We’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO. Much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said in an unscheduled statement.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US government quietly expelled two Chinese diplomats suspected of spying after they drove onto a sensitive military base in Virginia, The New York Times reported Dec. 15, 2019.
The Times said the incident, which happened in September, appeared to be the first time Chinese diplomats had been suspected of espionage on US soil in more than 30 years.
It came after a pair of officials drove to the checkpoint for entry to a Virginia military base with their wives in September. A guard, who realized they did not have permission to enter, told them to go through the gate, turn around, and exit. But the officials instead continued to the base, those familiar with the incident told The Times.
Eventually, a fire truck was used to block their path. The Chinese officials said they had not understood the guard’s English instructions and had simply become lost, a claim officials were skeptical about.
Sailors man the rails aboard the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham as the ship pulls into Naval Station Norfolk.
(U.S. Navy photo by Jonathan Clay)
At least one of the officials is believed to be an intelligence officer, six people with knowledge of the expulsions told The Times.
The incident, which was not announced by Washington or Beijing, underlines concerns within the Trump administration that Chinese officials have stepped up spying efforts amid an intensifying economic rivalry between the two countries.
Chinese officials carrying diplomatic passports have started showing up at government research facilities with increasing frequency in recent years, The Times reported.
The base Chinese officials tried to access in September was a sensitive unit housing special-operations forces and is near the US Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia.
The US is most recently known to have expelled Chinese diplomats on suspicion of espionage in 1987.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Lines get blurred on the battlefield. The only thing that clearly gives one side the moral high ground is their ability to follow the rules of law. Sure, it may make troops fight with one hand tied behind their back, but it is a line that should never be crossed.
While the overarching themes may be self-evident, there are many laws in place to prevent a sort of domino effect from happening — one that would eventually cause unnecessary harm or death. We’ve discussed a few of the more obscure laws in a previous article, but there are still plenty to discuss.
Even if the phrase is spoken in jest by someone with authority over another, it’s a war crime.
Because anything said by a commander or a leader is to be taken as a direct order, even just uttering the phrase, “no quarter given” is against the laws of war — regardless of the circumstance.
Quarter, or the act of taking prisoners of war, should always be a top priority if any combatant has surrendered or has lost the ability to fight. This is such a big deal that it is clearly given its own rule.
It’s one or the other. Not both.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Zachary Holden)
Using CS gas on combatants (Chemical Weapons Convention Art I (5))
The use of riot control gas is a gray area. It is deployed in moments of civil unrest, but it cannot be used in addition to deadly force.
Meaning, against a large crowd of aggressive (but not violent) protesters, non-lethal CS gas may be used to accomplish dispersion. The reason such gas is banned from war, however, is because it removes combatants from a fight and causes unnecessary suffering. If the goal is to detain the combatant, it’s fine. The moment someone opens fire on an incapacitated individual, however, it’s a war crime.
Besides, light blue isn’t really a choice camouflage pattern in most environments.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Maximiliano Rosas)
Using light blue headgear in combat (Geneva Convention Prot. I Art. 85)
There aren’t too many wrong answers in designing a combat uniform. As long as it follows the general color palette of a given area, it’s usually fair game and used by nearly everyone. The only color that is strictly off-limits is the shade of blue used by UN peacekeepers.
The use of light blue on headgear may misrepresent a combatant’s intentions. The light blue headgear is officially recognized because it can be seen from a distance. UN Peacekeepers have their own guidelines, which include never initiating combat unless absolutely necessary. And attacking a UN peacekeeper opens up an entirely different can of worms.
Those who are not with the UN are forbidden from using this color.
Their focus is healing the injured and wounded. Anything that prevents them from saving any life should be avoided.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Smith)
Even slightly interfering with Red Cross workers (First Geneva Convention Art. 9)
Medical professionals with the International Red Cross are heavily protected by the laws of war. It’s fairly well known that harming them is a war crime and forcibly stopping them from giving aid is also a war crime. What you might not know is that “interfering with an aid worker” is loosely defined — and for good reason.
In the past, combatants would stop aid workers from leaving their area so that they only give aid to their troops. But Red Cross workers aren’t supposed to take sides. They need to be able to give equal and unbiased treatment to all wounded on the battlefield.
Anything more than a routine security check is off-limits.
Military necessity may require troops to engage the enemy on a farm and accidents, unfortunately, happen. But willfully attacking a civilian’s livestock is not necessary.
(Photo by Pfc. David Devich)
Anything involving fresh waterways or farms (Geneva Convention Prot. I Art. 51-54)
Intentionally damaging a drinking well is punishable by The Hague. Unintentionally doing so is treated just as harshly.
There is the caveat of “military necessity,” which would protect a combatant that is forced to fight on a farm or a river that is used as drinking water. Ideally, all fighting would take place where, without a shadow of a doubt, no food or water will be poisoned or damaged by conflict. Sometimes, however, you’re not given a choice.
In the first week of February 2018, insiders in the Israeli aviation industry told Haaretz that Saudi Arabia reportedly granted approval to Air India to fly direct from Delhi to Tel Aviv using its airspace.
Reuters confirmed that Air India said it is planning direct flights to Israel, and sought permission from Saudi Arabia to fly over its territory, which would significantly reduce flight times by more than two hours.
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority denied reports that it already granted Air India’s request.
However, there was no indication that it would not consider the request in the future.
If the air route is confirmed, it would mark the first time Saudi Arabia would allow commercial flights to fly to Israel using its airspace and would mark a significant shift in strategic policy that has shaped the region for decades.
Currently, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has instated a ban on flights traveling to Israel from using its airspace for more than 70 years.
But news of Saudi Arabia potentially easing its airspace regulations may add concrete evidence to reports of the country’s warming ties to Israel.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have shared goals
Several reports have surfaced showing covert cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, who currently maintain no diplomatic ties.
One key issue the two have reportedly bonded over is curbing common-enemy Iran’s continued expansion in the Middle East.
Iran has openly threatened to annihilate Israel many times over the serious decades-long conflict between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia and Iran’s conflict dates back to a centuries-old divide between Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority in the Saudi Kingdom, and Shiites who govern Iran. The two officially severed ties in 2016, after Iranian protesters set fires in the Saudi Embassy compound in Tehran.
While the two countries have been coy about reports of exchanging intelligence, Israel has been upfront about its “covert” contacts with Saudi officials amid common concerns over Iran.
Representatives from the two countries shared the stage at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015 and discussed their common interest in opposing Iran. Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, admitted that they’ve been quietly conducting diplomacy on Iranian issues since 2014.
In 2017, a leaked diplomatic cable confirmed longtime rumors of Israel and Saudi cooperation. In the cable, Israel instructed its overseas embassies to encourage support for Saudi Arabia in its battle against Iranian-proxy Hezbollah.
Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera that Iran remains a major threat to many countries across the Middle East.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. left a vacuum in the region which was filled by the Russians in Syria and by the Iranians and their proxies in other parts of the Middle East,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Israel is perceived as the most reliable potential ally. Therefore the Saudis understand pretty well that it is a good time to be good friends with Israel,” he said in the interview.
The Crown Prince is ushering in a new era
Saudi’s young Crown Prince is also seen as a key piece to understanding the timing of Israel and Saudi Arabia renewed relations.
The ambitious Mohammed Bin Salman has been spearheading a reform of Saudi’s domestic and foreign policy, which includes reevaluating its regional alliances, and aggressively opposing Iranian influence, according to Al-Arabiya.
The Crown Prince is also shaping Saudi’s cultural ethos. In November 2017, Salman made waves by purging anti-American and anti-Jewish clerics, making a strong indication that Saudi Arabia is seeking rapprochement with its Jewish neighbor and U.S.-ally Israel.
And by December 2017, Israel invited the Crown Prince to visit the country to discuss regional peace, and described the nation as the “leader of the Arab world.”
Experts say the Salman’s rise to power and widespread calls for reforms have allowed for a modern partnership with Israel to grow.
Associate professor with the Gulf Studies Program department at Qatar University Mahjoob Zweiri told Al Jazeera: “The political changes in Saudi Arabia and the desire to consolidate power is the main reason why these relations with Israel were opened.”
The cover story of National Geographic magazine’s February issue, “The Invisible War on the Brain,” takes a close look at a signature injury of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars—traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by the shock waves from explosions. TBIs have left hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans with life-altering and sometimes debilitating conditions, the treatment of which can be extremely complicated. At Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, soldiers paint masks that help them cope with their daily struggles and help them reveal their inner feelings. We invite you to see the service members’ masks and read the full story here.
Impeccable in his Marine uniform and outwardly composed, McNair sits on the porch of his parents’ home in Virginia, anonymous behind a mask he made in an art therapy session. “I was just going through pictures, and I saw the mask of Hannibal Lecter, and I thought, ‘That’s who I am’ … He’s probably dangerous, and that’s who I felt I was. I had this muzzle on with all these wounds, and I couldn’t tell anyone about them. I couldn’t express my feelings.”
Wearing his mask—half patriotic, half death’s-head—Hopman confronts the battery of medications he takes daily for blast-force injuries he sustained while treating soldiers as a flight medic. “I know my name, but I don’t know the man who used to back up that name … I never thought I would have to set a reminder to take a shower, you know. I’m 39 years old. I’ve got to set a reminder to take medicine, set a reminder to do anything… My daughter, she’s only four, so this is the only dad she’s ever known, whereas my son knew me before.”
“Detonation happened, and I was right there in the blast seat. I got blown up. And all this medical study—nobody ever thought that they [blast events] were very harmful, and so we didn’t log them, which we should because all blast forces are cumulative to the body. On a grade number for me, it would probably be 300-plus explosions … I’m not going to not play with my children. I’m not going to let my injuries stop them from having a good life.”
Tiffany H., as she prefers to be known, was “blown up” while helping women in a remote Afghan village earn additional income for their families. Memory loss, balance difficulties, and anxiety are among her many symptoms. The blinded eye and sealed lips on her mask.
Suiting up before attempting ordnance disposal “is the last line. There’s no one else to call … It’s the person and the IED … and if a mistake is made at that point, then death is almost certain. They call it the long walk because once you get that bomb suit on, number one, everything is harder when you’re wearing that 100 pounds … Two, the stress of knowing what you’re about to do. And three, it’s quiet, and it seems like it takes an hour to walk.”
It takes a different kind of individual that voluntarily chooses to put on a uniform and do the toughest jobs necessary to protect the United States. Most career assignments aren’t glamorous or exciting but they are necessary to prevent the free reign of criminals and terror. Everyone has their own reasons why they joined but service becomes about the welfare of your team and your mission.
Law enforcement and the military have separate mission statements yet run parallel in the grand scheme of things. Through experiences, foreign and domestic, each branch and department forge a bond within their units that last a life time. As much as civilians try to understand us, they’ll never fully ‘get it’ but it’s nice to share a drink a with someone who does — a kindred spirit, your cousin-in-arms.
At the start of every career of public service, an oath is sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States. Criminals and terrorists don’t care about what color your uniform is; your gender, religion, race, or creed; or if you’re behind a desk. In the eyes of the wicked, all are a threat to their ambitions of power and wealth. Veterans can also be found within their ranks.
Here’s why the NYPD is the most badass police department in the country
The War on Terror started on our soil and the first ones to respond were police and fire departments. Our rights as Americans to live free of tyranny are constantly under assault by religious radicals. Cities where our people are most free are prime targets for those who seek to destroy our way of life. Police departments train officers to prevent and respond to these threats and are not alone in the defense of the Nation.
Toward the Sounds of Chaos: Operation Moshtarak – Hearts and Minds
They have struggled to win the hearts of the people
Politics aside, there are good men and women who do the right thing day-in and day-out. Some things are easier said than done and defeating an aggressive media campaign against those in uniform is one of them. Earning the trust of the community we patrol differs in difficulty contingent on the actions of our predecessors. Both uniforms know what it’s like to have the public turn on you for something someone else did.
American Takedown: Intercepting Drug Traffickers (Season 1, Episode 1) | A&E
Traffickers will smuggle anything into the U.S. to make a profit: drugs, contraband, even people. They are a mounting problem for the Department of Defense and joint operations are necessary to secure our borders. Coast Guardsmen are usually the butt of the joke when other branches sit at the Thanksgiving table but it’s all in good fun. We know they kick ass at hunting down traffickers, hurricane relief, and rescues out at sea.
Our law enforcement shares this mission, sometimes working alongside the military to keep the U.S. safe.
“So there I was about to end my shift when suddenly…”
Both have crazy stories we can’t share with civilians
Everyone has a wild story or two that can’t be told to civilians because they won’t understand the humor in it. The kinds of stories that made you turn to your buddy and give a ‘you seeing this sh*t?’ kind of look. Rest assured, both military and police have these and they’re great to share over drink.
Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, Marine Lt. Travis Manion, and Navy SEAL Brendan Looney. All three were killed in service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.
Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.
Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.
Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.
My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”
The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.
Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.
I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.
But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.
But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.
Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.
And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.
As Amy said the night before the funeral:
I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?
But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.
Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.
Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.
Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.
“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”
Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.
(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.
Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.
Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:
They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.
Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”
Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.