Many Chinese citizens responded in a peculiar way to Feb. 25, 2018’s announcement that the Chinese Communist Party may get rid of presidential term limits — by posting images of Winnie the Pooh on social media.
The pictures target Xi Jinping, who could now stay in power for decades and potentially paves the way to one-man rule that China has not seen since the days of Mao Zedong.
The joke is that Winnie the Pooh, the fictional, living teddy bear made by English author A. A. Milne, looks strikingly similar to Xi, supposedly because both of them look somewhat chubby. Critics of the Chinese leader often use the cartoon character in a derogatory way.
The meme has been circulating around Chinese and Western social media since Xi became president in 2013, and has been out in full force since the CCP’s announcement.
One image showed Pooh Bear hugging a large pot of honey, with the words “Wisdom of little bear Winnie the Pooh” in Chinese and “Find the thing you love and stick with it” in English. Another image showed a screenshot from an episode that shows the bear wearing a crown and other royal regalia.
China censors Winnie the Pooh
China banned Winnie the Pooh after Xi was compared to him ?
The memes have provoked Chinese censors to clamp down on the circulation of the cartoon bear on social media apps like WeChat and Sina Weibo.
It appears the censors are going beyond just taking down pictures of Winnie the Pooh. Entire messages relating to the topic of Xi as a dictator or negative talk about him serving for life are being deleted minutes after being sent to friends or posted online.
“I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again,” one micro-blogger wrote according to What’s on Weibo, an independent news site that reports on Chinese digital and social media. “I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution.”
China Digital Times and Free Weibo have reported that some of the phrases that Chinese censors are scrutinizing include “I don’t agree,” “election term,” “constitution rules,” “Winnie the Pooh,” and “proclaiming oneself an emperor.”
“Migration” and “emigration” are also subject to heavy censorship.
State censorship is not new in China and censors have gone after Winnie the Pooh images in the past. The country has also notably gone to great lengths to make sure the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, in which hundreds of unarmed Chinese citizens were gunned down by the Peoples Liberation Army, are not discussed — either in person or on the internet.
Infantry soldiers often carry an array of supplies and gear that together can weigh anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds, said Capt. Erika Hanson, the assistant product manager for the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport.
But the SMET vehicle, which the Army expects to field in just under three years, “is designed to take the load off the soldier,” Hanson said. “Our directed requirement is to carry 1,000 pounds of the soldier load.”
That 1,000 pounds is not just for one soldier, of course, but for an entire Infantry squad — typically about nine soldiers.
Late May 2018, during a “Close Combat Lethality Tech Day” in the courtyard of the Pentagon, Hanson had with her on display the contenders for the Army’s SMET program: four small vehicles, each designed to follow along behind a squad of infantry soldiers and carry most or all their gear for them, so they can move to where they need to be without being exhausted upon arrival.
“I’m not an infantry soldier,” Hanson said. “But I’ve carried a rucksack — and I can tell you I can move a lot faster without out a rucksack on my back. Not having to carry this load will make the soldier more mobile and more lethal in a deployed environment.”
The four contender vehicles on display at the Pentagon were the MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport from General Dynamics Land Systems; the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the RS2-H1 system from Howe and Howe Technologies. Each was loaded down with gear representative of what they would be expected to carry when one of them is actually fielded to the Army.
(U.S. Army photos)
“Nine ruck sacks, six boxes of MREs and four water cans,” Hanson said. “This is about the equivalent of what a long-range mission for a light Infantry unit would need to carry.”
Hanson said that for actual testing and evaluation purposes, the simulated combat load also includes fuel cans and ammo cans as well, though these items weren’t included in the display at the Pentagon.
These small vehicles, Hanson said, are expected to follow along with a squad of soldiers as they walk to wherever it is they have been directed to go. The requirement for the vehicles is that they be able to travel up to 60 miles over the course of 72 hours, she said.
Three of the vehicles are “pivot steered,” Hanson said, to make it easier for them to maneuver in off-road environments, so that they can follow soldiers even when there isn’t a trail.
One of the contenders for SMET has a steering wheel, with both a driver’s seat and a passenger seat. So if a soldier wanted to drive that vehicle, he could, Hanson said. Still, the Army requirement is that the SMET be able to operate unmanned, and all four vehicles provide that unmanned capability.
All four contenders include a small, simplistic kind of remote control that a soldier can hand-carry to control the vehicle. One of those remotes was just a light-weight hand grip with a tiny thumb-controlled joystick on top. A soldier on patrol could carry the light-weight controller at his side.
More advanced control options are also available for the SMET as well, Hanson said.
“All can be operated with an operator control unit,” she said. “It’s a tele-operation where you have a screen and you can operate the system non-line-of-site via the cameras on the system.”
When soldiers on patrol want the SMET to follow along with them, they can use the very simple controller that puts a low cognitive load on the Soldier. When they want the SMET to operate in locations where they won’t be able to see it, they can use the more advanced controller with the video screen.
Hanson said the Army envisions soldiers might one day use the SMET to do things besides carry a Soldier’s bags.
“It’s for use in operations where some of the payloads are like re-trans and recon payloads in the future,” she said. “In that situation, it would be better for a soldier at a distance to be able to tele-operate the SMET into position.”
(U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
The “re-trans” mission, she said, would involve putting radio gear onto the SMET and then using a remote control to put the vehicle out at the farthest edge of where radio communications are able to reach. By doing so, she said, the SMET could then be part of extending that communications range farther onto the battlefield.
One of the vehicles even has an option for a soldier to clip one end of a rope to his belt and the other end to the vehicle — and then the vehicle will just follow him wherever he walks. That’s the tethered “follow-me” option, Hanson said.
In addition to carrying gear for soldiers, the SMET is also expected to provide electric power to soldiers on patrol. She said while the vehicle is moving, for instance, it is required to provide 1 kilowatt of power, and when it’s standing still, it must provide 3 kW.
That power, she said, could be piped into the Army’s “Universal Battery Charger,” which can charge a variety of batteries currently used in soldier products. Vendors of the SMET have each been provided with a UBC so they can figure out how best to incorporate the device into their SMET submissions.
Hanson said the Army hopes that the SMET could include, in some cases, up to five UBCs on board to ensure that no soldier in an Infantry squad is ever without mobile power.
In November 2017, the Army held a “fly-off” at Fort Benning, Georgia, where 10 contenders for the SMET competed with each other. Only the developers of the vehicles were involved in the fly-off.
“From those, we down-selected to these four, based on their performance,” Hanson said.
To make its choice for the down-select, she said the Army looked at things like mobility and durability of the systems.
Now, the Army will do a technology demonstration to down-select to just one vehicle, from the remaining four. To do that, Hanson said, the Army will first provide copies of the competing SMET vehicles to two Army Infantry units, one at Fort Drum, New York, and one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Additionally, Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will also get a set of the vehicles.
“Over the course of the tech demo, we’ll be getting feedback from the soldiers and the Marines on what systems best fill the need for the infantryman,” she said.
The technology demonstration, she said, will last just one year. And when it’s complete, feedback from soldiers and Marines will be used to down-select to just one system that will then become an Army program of record.
“I think the best part of the program is the innovative approach the team is taking to field them to soldiers before they select the program of record,” Hanson said. “That way, it’s the soldier feedback that drives the requirement, not the other way around.”
Hanson said she expects the program of record to begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020, after which the Army will go into low-rate initial production on the SMET. By the second or third quarter of FY 2021, she said, the first Army unit can expect to have the new vehicle fielded to them.
Hanson said the Army has set a base price of $100,000 for the SMET.
Veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery unless policies are changed — even if they were bestowed the Medal of Honor, a new report says.
There are 21 million living veterans in the U.S., but the cemetery has room for only 73,000 burials.
Currently, any veteran with an honorable discharge and at least one day of active duty is eligible for interment there at Arlington. That’s a lower bar than the cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which require two years of active duty service. (RELATED: VA Insists On Paper Records, Slowing Payments To Private Docs But Creating Union Jobs)
Largely thanks to the one-day-minimum policy, the cemetery will be closed even to those killed in action — known as “first interments” — by 2042.
“If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate under current policies, it must be expanded geographically and/or alter the iconic look and feel of the cemetery,” an Army report presented to Congress August 23 said. “If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate without expansion, eligibility must change or it will close for first interments by mid-century.”
That’s only 26 years into the future, meaning veterans of recent wars, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, have little hope of burial there when they die later in life. “With current policies, Veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, [Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom] era cannot expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, even if awarded the Medal of Honor,” the report says.
Between 1967 and 1980, burial at Arlington was limited to those killed in action (KIA), retired career, and medal of honor recipients. If the policy is changed to limit the cemetery to KIAs only, the cemetery will have enough space for hundreds of years.
But doing so would disenfranchise Vietnam veterans, the youngest of whom will be octogenarians around 2040 and many of whom already felt mistreated by their country.
Besides changing policy, the cemetery can consider more compact and above-ground burials, which would risk losing the “serene and ordered look … with its rows of white headstones, trees, and tasteful historical and ceremonial spaces.”
It could also expand, either by acquiring neighboring land — which is hard to come by in Arlington — or at a new site. One such expansion is already taken into account in the projections.
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When Syrian President Bashar al-Asad used a sarin nerve gas attack on his own citizens during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump was pissed. According to veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, Trump wanted to kill Asad for the attack, using a targeted leadership strike.
But cooler heads prevailed, and then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis convinced the President to hit Syrian airfields with a series of Tomahawk missiles instead.
Sparing them from getting hit by Mattis’ personal Tomahawk.
The Russians came to Syria in September 2015, at a time when things looked pretty bleak for the regime, good for the loose confederation of rebels, and great for the Islamic State. Almost immediately, Russian intervention began to make the difference for the Syrian government forces. By the end of 2017, the government had retaken key cities and areas from both rebel groups and ISIS fighters.
Also the end of 2017, the Russians began to make their presence at air bases in the country permanent. That’s who the United States called in April 2017, delivering a warning that some of America’s finest manufactured products were being forcibly delivered to a Syrian airbase that night.
There goes id=”listicle-2636430379″.8 million worth of forcible export.
Nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles were fired from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross of the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea that night. The Pentagon ordered the Navy to deliver a warning to Russian troops in the area right before the attack hit at 3:45 in the morning. According to Woodward’s source, the Russian airfield troop who picked up the phone sounded like he was dead drunk.
“That’s our secret, captain… we’re always drunk.”
The warning worked, and the attack reportedly killed no Russian troops at the Shayrat Air Base, though it did damage and destroy aircraft and missile batteries, on top of killing nine Syrian government troops and seven civilians. The U.S. attack purposely avoided attacking a sarin gas storage facility on the base. The base itself was targeted because it was the source of Asad’s sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.
Warning Russia of the pending attack may have given the Syrian Air Force notice to shelter its planes and prepare for the attack, as it was noted that many of the planes there survived the assault and its airfields were operational again less than 24 hours later.
During his time in the Corps, Hackman was demoted three times for leaving his post without proper authorization.
After Hackman had been discharged, the San Bernardino native went on to study journalism and TV production at the University of Illinois. By 30, he had broken into a successful acting career and would be nominated for five Academy Awards and winning two for his roles in “The French Connection” and “Unforgiven.”
Hackman is credited with approximately 100 film and TV roles and is currently retired from acting.
Military Working Dogs, or MWDs, play a huge role in the defense of the United States — and when one of them is injured, the Veterinary Medical Center Europe plays a huge role in getting them back in the fight.
Recently, while on patrol with his handler in Afghanistan, MWD Alex, assigned to the 8th MWD Detachment, 91st Military Police Battalion, Fort Drum, New York, was injured in an attack by a suicide bomber. Following care in Bagram, Afghanistan, Alex was medically evacuated to VMCE for further treatment.
Like many of their human counterparts, when an MWD is injured while deployed, they are often medically evacuated to Germany. Service members are transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for care, and MWDs are transported to VMCE for comprehensive veterinary care.
According to Maj. Renee Krebs, VMCE deputy director and veterinary surgeon, when Alex arrived in Germany, he had a fractured left tibia, shrapnel wounds, and multiple other fractures below and above his shin bone.
On the day he arrived, Krebs performed surgery to stabilize Alex’s leg, “which worked pretty well,” she said. “But his other wound, particularly the one over his ankle, started to get worse and worse every day despite appropriate medical therapy and pain management.”
Maj Renee Krebs, Veterinary Medical Center Europe Deputy Director and Veterinary Surgeon, greets Alex, Military Working Dog from the 91st Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, prior to surgery.
(U.S. Army photo by Ashley Patoka )
Alex’s wound over his ankle was getting so bad that it would likely require up to six months of reconstructive and orthopedic surgery. And because of bone and tissue loss, he was also at a very high risk for infection.
In addition to this, Krebs said that Alex was “not using the limb as well as he had been the first week or so after surgery — it was getting more painful. And he began to develop some behavioral problems, centered on some of the things we had to do when we were treating him.”
Krebs said some of the behavioral problems included aggression and snapping when the team would move him to the table to do treatments.
“I spoke to a behaviorist about it and she thought he was having some post-traumatic stress disorder-type acute episodes,” Krebs said. “So we changed the way we were managing him, but he was still getting worse, so in the interest of allowing him to move on with his life and improve his quality of life, we went with amputation.”
Krebs said that had they not performed the amputation, it was likely that Alex would have still ended up losing his leg if they had gone with the option of three to six months’ of wound management.
“The risk was very high. It was a very guarded prognosis to begin with that he would ever have normal return of function to the leg, and I knew if I amputated his leg he would be functional as a pet or regular dog probably within a week — so it seemed like the best option for him.”
Alex was described as relatively calm by Krebs, and during his time at the VMCE, the staff learned more about him, enabling them to cater to his needs and ensure he was comfortable.
“MWDs run the gamut from very high strung, very nervous and needing to be restrained because they have so much energy and are so anxious, to being very mellow,” Krebs said. “Alex was sort of a strange combination — he was relatively calm, but there were things that you knew if you did them he was going to get angry, like touching his tail.”
At Alex’s home unit, Sgt. First Class David Harrison, kennel master for the 8th MWD detachment at Fort Drum, said Alex always felt like an old soul to him.
“[Alex has] the experience of a career soldier, and always carried himself in a way which always made trainers and handlers just believe he was focused on the mission at hand,” Harrison said. “He carries the ability to simply be a fun-loving dog who values his rapport with his handler as much as he enjoys executing his duties.”
Military Working Dog Alex is recovering well following leg amputation surgery, after suffering extensive wounds in a suicide bomber attack in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Ashley Patoka )
Even while recovering from his injury and going through surgery, Alex was teaching those around him some important lessons.
“It’s tragic what happened,” said Spc. Landon DeFonde, MWD handler with the 8th MWD detachment at Fort Drum, who has been with Alex for his recovery in Germany. “But it just goes to show how selfless and resilient these animals are. For him to go through that blast and still be as strong as he is and kind and gentle towards people, it really amazes me that what they are capable of living through and surviving through. It definitely teaches me resiliency.”
But these lessons don’t just come when an injury happens, as the relationship between MWD and handler is one that both benefit from over the course of their pairing.
“The relationship between handlers and their partners is a relationship I’ve always found difficult to put into words,” Harrison said. “It’s a familial bond, but it almost goes deeper in some ways. The co-dependent nature of the business puts handlers in a position where they have to give more trust to their canine than most put in fellow humans. It’s not always a comfortable or easy process, but once they reach the point where they independently trust each other while working in tandem, the connection the team develops is unparalleled.”
DeFonde, who has been a MWD handler for three years, shares similar sentiments.
“It is truly incredible how selfless one can be and I think it shows the true side and caring side of humans — how much compassion and care we can show another living being — it is really special,” said DeFonde. “It is really amazing how we interact and how we can combine to create such a strong and powerful team.”
Alex will head back to the states at the end of August 2018 where he will continue his recovery. Due to his injury, his home station kennel will submit a medical disposition packet to allow Alex to retire and be adopted.
“I’ve built a bond with Alex—- not as deep as his handler’s,” DeFonde said. “But it is always hard to say goodbye. Dogs do come and go — that is part of the job, but I am just really happy I was able to come over here and help him recover and then get him back to the states and get him to see his handler.
“I’ve always heard the saying, humans don’t deserve dogs because of how kind they are, and I 100 percent agree. You could not ask for a more selfless companion.”
Since World War II, the Army has been using comic books to train soldiers on specific duties and reduce casualties through improved situational awareness.
The trend continued through the Vietnam War. At that time, the Army discovered a training deficiency and produced a comic book to educate soldiers about proper weapon maintenance.
Fast forward to today, the Army is facing a new challenge.
Advancements in cyber and smart technologies have the potential to alter the landscape of future military operations, according to Lt. Col. Robert Ross, threatcasting project lead at the Army Cyber Institute, West Point, New York.
The U.S. military, allied partners, and their adversaries are finding new ways to leverage networked devices on the battlefield, Ross said.
The Army Cyber Institute at West Point, New York, has partnered with Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab to produce a series of graphic novellas such as “1000 Cuts.”
(US Army photo)
“The use of networked technology is ubiquitous throughout society and the leveraging of these devices on future battlefields will become more prevalent; there is just no escape from this trend. Technology is integrated at every level of our Army,” he said.
Keeping with the Army’s legacy of producing visual literature to improve readiness, the ACI has partnered with Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab to produce a series of graphic novellas, Ross said.
The lab brings together military, government, industry, and academia experts to envision possible future threats.
The graphic seen here is from the novella titled “1000 Cuts.”
(US Army photo)
Through their research, the workshop develops potential cyber threat scenarios, and then explores options to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from these future threats.
Each graphic novella considers what cyber threats are plausible in the next 10 years — based on a combination of scientific fact and the imagination of those involved, Ross explained.
“This project is designed to deliver that understanding through visual narrative,” he said. “Technical reports and research papers do not translate as well to the audiences we are looking to influence. Graphic novellas are more influential of a medium for conveying future threats to not only Army organizations at large, but down to the soldier level.”
The graphic seen here is from the novella titled “Insider Threat.”
(US Army photo)
The novella titled “1000 Cuts” depicts the psychological impact that a cyber-attack could have on soldiers and their families. In the story, these attacks were enough to disrupt a deployed unit, leaving them open to an organized attack, Ross said.
“Given the exponential growth in soldiers’ use of [networked] devices … 1000 Cuts presents an extremely plausible threat. It demonstrates how non-state actors can leverage technical vulnerabilities within the cyber domain to their advantage in the land domain,” Ross said.
“The visual conveyance of a graphic novella enables leaders to not only envision these scenarios but retain the lessons that can be drawn from them as well,” he added.
President Trump has officially signed the order to begin the process of developing the Space Force. The logical side of all of our brains is telling us that it’s just going to be an upgraded version of what the Navy and Air Force’s respective Space Commands currently do… but deep down, we all want to sign up.
I mean, who wouldn’t immediately sign an indefinite contract to be a space shuttle door gunner? It represents that tiny glimmer of hope in all of us that says we, one day, can live out every epic space fantasy we’ve ever dreamed up.
The sad truth is that the first couple decades (if not centuries) of the Space Force will involve dealing with boring human problems, not fighting intergalactic aliens bent on destroying our solar system. Oh well.
Hey, while you wait for the army of Space Bugs to start invading, kill some time with these memes.
President Donald Trump on Aug. 13, 2018, signed into law a $717 billion defense spending bill that puts China in the crosshairs of a host of new US Navy missiles and tactics.
Beijing heavily protested it and may have scored some small concessions, but the bill puts nearly $1 trillion behind the idea that great power strategic competition has returned and that the US seeks to win it.
The increase in spending comes as China has increasingly edged out the US Navy’s competitive advantage in open waters. The US suffers a missile gap with both Russia and China, meaning those countries have longer-range missiles designed to sink massively valuable platforms like aircraft carriers before they can get close.
The US drifted from a focus on fighting near-peer adversaries like China and Russia after the Cold War, as military planners banked on continued US supremacy to limit potential adversaries to non-state actors and rogue states.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin, the guided-missile destroyers USS Sampson and USS Pinkney, and the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz operating in formation in the South China Sea.
Simply put, these missiles would chew up a US carrier strike group, with destroyers and cruisers protecting an aircraft carrier. Launching F/A-18s off a carrier could beat back a Russian or Chinese attack, but the missile gap remains palpable and a threat to the US Navy’s highest-value assets.
US Navy submariners loading a Tomahawk cruise missile onto a sub.
(US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason)
Return to ship-sinking
To regain its status as the world’s premier ship-sinking force, the US has planned a few upgrades and set aside cash for them in the defense bill. It would pay for new long-range missiles for the Air Force and some Navy planes while bringing back a missile abandoned by the Navy after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Today, Tomahawk missiles have a massive range, of about 1,000 miles, but can hit only land targets, as they have in Syria recently. At the height of the Cold War, Tomahawks could strike moving ships, and now the Navy seeks to get that power back.
A modification in the works at Raytheon seeks to deliver 32 maritime versions of the Tomahawks by 2021 that would healthily out-range any Russian or Chinese missiles.
After a successful test of the upgraded Tomahawk in 2015, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, Bob Work, said (according to USNI News): “This is a potentially a game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1,000-mile anti-ship cruise missile.”
“It can be used by practically our entire surface and submarine fleet,” Work added.
But not only will the Navy get increased power to fight adversaries like China — it’s scheduling in some more patrols that could lead to run-ins, as have become increasingly frequent.
With Beijing building up its military presence in the South China Sea and rolling out new warships at a dizzying rate, the US’s return to great power competition will also include training neighboring navies in India and Sri Lanka.
Israel is reestablishing a storied commando unit disbanded in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War to help the country battle today’s terrorist enemies.
According to a report in ShephardMedia.com, the unit is already in operation, and has returned to help bolster units capable of specialized counter-terrorism missions. In this case, the operations may be centering on the Gaza Strip, currently controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.
“The IDF has a need for a special unit capable of operating in Palestinian areas,” Capt. Ben Eichenthal, the unit’s deputy commander, told ShephardMedia.com.
IsraelHayom.com reports that the unit will specialize in military operations in urban terrain and also in “subterranean operations.” Israel has been trying to locate tunnels dug in order to facilitate smuggling into the Gaza Strip. On June 1, two such tunnels were discovered under schools run by the United Nations Refugee Welfare Agency.
While Haruv will have operators trained as snipers, anti-tank units and engineers will not be assigned to this unit, which will be roughly the size of an infantry battalion. The unit has been assigned to the Kfir Brigade – which holds five other counter-terrorist units, the Nachshon, Shimshon, Duchifat, Lavi and Netzah Yehuda battalions.
The original “Haruv” unit fought in the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War. Its best-known operation was in ending an airline hijacking in August, 1973. According to Isayeret.com, the unit also specialized in carrying out border security missions on Israel’s border with Jordan.
The earlier Haruv unit carried out a number of its operations in the Gaza Strip. During its eight years in operation, it also carried out ambushes and pursuit missions in the Jordan Valley. In the wake of the Yom Kippur war, the Israeli Defense Forces disbanded special operations units at the regional command level.
Every once in a while, a tv show hits on something that resonates so deeply, we can’t help but find tears in our eyes. Last night, CBS’ military comedy “United States of Al” delivered such a scene.
As the show explores the relationship between an Afghan interpreter (Al) and the US Marine (Riley) who sponsored his immigration to the United States, viewers have been treated to laughs every Thursday night. We’ve cracked up watching Al fumble through the nuances of American life, giggled at the things quite literally lost in translation and felt the many pulls at our heartstrings as the complexity of life off the battlefield unfolds.
We’ve grieved with Riley’s sister over the loss of her fiance who was killed in action, we’ve struggled alongside Riley at the deterioration of his marriage during deployment and we’ve so deeply empathized with these characters as they find their “new normal” on the home front, away from the bizarre comfort a warzone offers when you’re side by side with your brothers and sisters in arms.
We’ve seen glimpses of Al and Riley “over there,” but we haven’t truly understood the relationship between the two – representative of the relationships between thousands of interpreters and service members – until a speech by Al at the local veteran’s hall, where Riley’s dad is a member.
Throughout the episode, we’re given flashes into Riley’s discomfort at being honored at a ceremony at the post. In his dress uniform, Riley arrives at the ceremony, immediately lauded for his bravery, and asked the questions so many veterans face returning from war. Things like, “What was it like over there?” “Did you throw a grenade?” “I heard you’re a hero!” Riley is visibly uncomfortable and walks out before he is supposed to give his speech. While Al has prepped for his “big moment” by reading a speech giving book, his vulnerability and the harrowing truth about the “eyes” steals the show:
“I read a book on giving speeches and it suggested opening with a joke. But I’m not going to. Because there is nothing funny about the 17,000 Afghan interpreters still waiting for visas which were promised them. When we decided to join the US forces, we were not only risking our lives, we were putting the lives of our families in danger. We were the eyes and ears of American troops and that is what the Taliban called us – the eyes. On missions I would hear them over the radio say, ‘Shoot the eyes first.’ And a lot of times, they did.
But not me.
My friend Riley saved my life on three separate occasions. Twice from gunfire, once from red tape. He got my visa application out from whatever pile it was buried under and brought me to America. I know he doesn’t like to be called a hero, but the interpreters who don’t have a friend like him are probably not going to make it here. So if he won’t let me call him a hero, I will call him my brother.”
Al’s speech is all too familiar to interpreters and veterans here at home. An estimated 18,864 Afghans are still waiting for approval in a process that has significantly slowed in the past few years. With violence against civilians and targeted killings increasing in Afghanistan, and with a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan looming in the near future, many SIV applicants worry that their visas will come too late, if at all.
They were our eyes and our ears over there. They gave us everything to aid our fight to advance freedoms across the world – they risked their lives, their families, their stability. We gave them our word we’d bring them home with us. The least we can do is to keep it.
Check out The United States of Al on CBS Thursday nights at 8:30pm EST/PST or stream on Paramount Plus.