When her duty day is over, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen often wonders if she did enough to help identify fallen service members.
As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the morgue at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked to account for more than 82,000 Americans missing from past conflicts, she analyzes human remains and personal effects in hopes to close a cold case.
“At the end of the day, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done my best,” she said. “And when I get up in the morning, I say I’m going to do better, because these families have been waiting years and years.”
Owens is one of about 100 service members and civilians who work at the agency’s laboratories here and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Each year, the labs identify the remains of around 200 Americans that are then reunited with families.
On Aug. 1, more than 50 cases containing remains believed to be those of American service members were provided to DPAA by North Korea.
The remains are now undergoing further analysis and identification at the labs.
The painstaking work, which can take months to years to complete, is Owen’s passion. Whenever a positive identification comes in, she said, it is as if the service member’s name is given back.
An honor guard provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. Carry teams will move 55 flag-draped transfer cases, containing what are believed to be the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War, to the DPAA laboratory at JBPH-H for identification.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
‘These Are All Heroes’
“What drives me the most is that these are heroes,” she said, looking across a lab holding hundreds of unknown remains. “These are all heroes [who] have a name and a family.”
Each year, DPAA conducts up to 80 investigation and recovery team missions throughout the world to pinpoint last known locations of missing Americans and to attempt to excavate their remains.
“The work is complex, the work is difficult, and it takes that dedication, that passion … to be able to perform this solemn obligation that we make to the nation and to the families,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
The joint agency, which employs many service members and veterans, has agreements with nearly 50 nations that assist in its missions, he added.
Most of the missing fell at World War II battle sites in the Pacific region. There are also almost 7,700 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
DPAA teams were allowed to conduct missions in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, but operations were halted as diplomatic relations deteriorated in the region. Agency officials hope these missions could soon start up again.
Before he became the agency’s lab director, John Byrd had the opportunity to help recover Americans who fought in North Korea at the Battle of Unsan. The 1950 battle pitted Chinese forces against American and South Korean troops.
When remains are identified by his staff it is always a testament to good field and lab work that solved the decades-old case, Byrd said.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said, “and it kind of keeps you grounded where you know why you’re here and why you’re doing this work.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen, a morgue noncommissioned officer for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, examines a personal effect that may have belonged to a fallen service member in a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 12, 2018.
(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
A majority of DPAA cases involve some type of DNA testing. Samples are taken from the remains and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab in Delaware.
To help this process, family members who have a missing loved one are encouraged to provide a DNA sample that will serve as a comparison.
If no reference samples are on file, a battalion of professional genealogists working for service casualty offices will try to locate family members.
Many times their starting point is the service member’s home address from the 1940s, if they served in World War II. This makes it extremely difficult to track down a living family member as the years pass on.
“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all. How do you find close family members of a missing serviceman from 1944?” Byrd asked. “It’s not easy. Some [cases] we run into dead-ends and we can’t find anybody.”
The Defense Department has kept dental records of troops dating back to World War I that can be used to help in the identification process.
In 2005, the agency also discovered another method that has proved successful. Many troops who served in early conflicts had to get chest X-rays as part of a tuberculosis screening when they first signed up.
Like the dental records, these radiographs were stored in a warehouse by the DoD. DPAA later obtained thousands of copies of them. Lab personnel use them as a comparison tool, since the shape of each person’s chest is different.
“The process of comparing this induction chest x-ray to an x-ray we take from the remains is analogous to doing fingerprint comparison,” Byrd said. “It’s a very similar kind of mindset that you take when you look at the two side-by-side; you’re looking for commonalities and differences.”
When a service member is identified, family members often come to the lab so they can participate in escorting the remains back home, he said. For those who work at the lab, those family member visits make the months or years of work seem worthwhile.
“When you have a family member come in and the staff who actually worked on the case get to meet them, they get to see the tangible results of their hard work,” Byrd said. “It’s definitely a boost to their morale.”
Members of the 647th Force Support Squadron search and recovery team tag and mark simulated remains during the search and recovery team’s training event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 27, 2017. The search and recovery team is tasked with recovering human remains from accident sites.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)
In the Field
Before that sort of closure can start for families, recovery teams spend weeks at a time doing the grunt work of excavating sites.
Army Capt. Brandon Lucas, who serves as a team leader, recalled his team digging nearly 20 feet into the ground in Laos in search of an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who vanished during the Vietnam War.
While no remains were found on that mission, they were still able to confidently close the site and shift efforts elsewhere.
Then there was another mission in Slovenia, where the tail gunner of a bomber aircraft from World War II went missing.
When his plane crashed, the gunner was the only one in his aircrew killed. Residents later buried him next to a church.
As Lucas’ team arrived at the site, the townspeople still knew about the crash and the gunner. Residents regularly visited his team, often bringing Lucas and the others food and drinks. An elderly woman even told him that for decades she would clean the grave site once a week.
When his team recovered the remains, a somber tone spread through the community.
“A lot of them actually shed tears when we found the remains,” Lucas said. “It was special to them and it was special to me.”
The poignant moment, along with others he has experienced during missions, galvanized the meaning of the mission for him.
“I’m potentially bringing back a fallen comrade,” Lucas said. “I would want to know that if it was me lost out there somebody is trying to recover me and give my family closure.”
Recovery missions also extend out into the sea, where many service members have disappeared as a result of aircraft crashes or ships sunk.
While she served as commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Army Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson was an advocate for her unit to support the solemn mission.
The unit regularly supplies DPAA with highly-trained Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, who often work on the sea floor with no visibility and use a suction hose to remove loose sediment from recovery sites.
On a barge, team members then sift through the sediment for the remains or personal effects of those missing.
When divers returned to Hawaii, she encouraged them to share their experiences and what they got out of the mission with others in the unit.
“They come back a different person and they have a different respect for our Army and for what we do,” Davidson said.
Back at the lab, Owen and others strive to identity those heroes who have been found.
“I feel that I am part of something so much bigger that I can contribute to,” she said.
It was a cool night for Havana, with the temperature falling into the mid-70s, and the diplomat and his family were feeling very good about their assignment to Cuba. They were still settling into their new home, a comfortable, Spanish-style house in the lush enclave that had been called “el Country Club” before wealthy families abandoned it in the early years of the revolution. “We were just thrilled to be there,” the diplomat recalled. “The music, the rum, the cigars, the people — and a very important moment for diplomacy.”
Eight months earlier, in March 2016, President Barack Obama had swept into town to commemorate the two countries’ historic rapprochement, vowing to bury “the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” Now, weeks after the election of Donald Trump, that entente was suddenly doubtful. Fidel Castro had just died, opening a new chapter in the Cuban saga. The diplomat could hardly have imagined a more fascinating time to arrive.
As the sun slid into the Florida Straits on that late-November evening, the diplomat folded back the living room doors that opened onto the family’s new tropical garden. The warm night air poured in, along with an almost overpowering din. “It was annoying to the point where you had to go in the house and close all the windows and doors and turn up the TV,” he recalled. “But I never particularly worried about it. I figured, ‘I’m in a strange country, and the insects here make loud noises.'”
A few nights later, the diplomat and his wife invited over the family of another American embassy official who lived next door. Around dusk, as they chatted on the patio, the same deafening sound rose from their yard again.
“I’m pretty sure those are cicadas,” the first diplomat said.
“Those are not cicadas,” his neighbor insisted. “Cicadas don’t sound like that. It’s too mechanical-sounding.”
The colleague had been hearing the same noises at home, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch. After he complained to the embassy housing office, a couple of Cuban maintenance workers were dispatched to look around. They checked for electrical problems and scanned the yard for strange insects, but they left without finding anything out of place. In February, the nightly racket finally began to fade. Then it went away altogether.
It was not until a Friday in late March that the diplomat realized he might be facing something more dangerous than bugs. At work that day, an embassy colleague with whom he was friendly took him aside and said he was leaving Cuba right away. A fit-looking man in his thirties, the colleague said he had just been in Miami, where medical specialists found he had a series of problems including a serious hearing loss. In late December, he said, he had been struck by a strange, disturbing phenomenon — a powerful beam of high-pitched sound that seemed to be pointed right at him. The following Monday, the diplomat’s friend played him a recording of the noise: It sounded a lot like what the diplomat had heard in his backyard.
The diplomat, who agreed to discuss his experience on the condition he not be named, said neither he nor his wife had felt any signs of illness or injury. But within days, they, too, would be on their way to Miami to be examined by medical specialists. Along with 22 other Americans and eight Canadians, they would be diagnosed with a wide array of concussion-like symptoms, ranging from headaches and nausea to hearing loss. They would also find themselves caught up in an extraordinary international dispute, one that the Trump administration would use to sharply reverse the course of U.S. relations with Cuba.
Even in a realm where secrets abound, the Havana incidents are a remarkable mystery. After nearly a year of investigation that has drawn on intelligence, defense and technology expertise from across the U.S. government, the FBI has been unable to determine who might have attacked the diplomats or how. Nor has the bureau ruled out the possibility that at least some of the Americans weren’t attacked at all. Officials who have been briefed on the inquiry described it as having made strikingly little progress in answering the basic questions of the case, with frustrated FBI agents reporting that they are running out of rocks to overturn.
Those frustrations have roiled the U.S. national-security community, putting the FBI increasingly at odds with the CIA over the case. In early January, after more than eight months of analysis, the bureau ruled out its initial hypothesis that the Americans were targeted with some type of sonic device. That left the FBI without a weapon, a perpetrator or a motive, and still struggling to understand how the diplomats could have been hurt or fallen ill. Intelligence officials, for their part, have continued to emphasize a pattern they see as anything but coincidental: The first four Americans to report being struck by the phenomenon — including the fit-looking man in his 30s — were all CIA officers working under diplomatic cover, as were two others affected later on. The CIA and other agencies involved in the investigation also have yet to concur with the FBI’s conclusion about sonic technology.
More broadly, the Cuba problem has raised questions within the national security community about how the Trump administration is using intelligence information to guide its foreign policy. At a time when the White House has vowed to act more forcefully against North Korea, Iran and other threats, some officials see the Cuba problem as yet another lesson in the dangers of using intelligence selectively to advance policy goals. “Trump came in opposing better relations with Cuba,” said one national security official who, like others, would discuss the case only on the condition he not be named. “The administration got out in front of the evidence and intelligence.”
A ProPublica investigation of the case, based on interviews with more than three dozen U.S. and foreign officials and an examination of confidential government documents, represents the first detailed public account of how the Cuba incidents unfolded. Although the State Department has generally emphasized similarities in the medical files of the 24 affected Americans, officials and documents consulted for this story indicated that the nature and seriousness of the patients’ symptoms varied rather widely. The experiences that precipitated their illnesses were also quite different, officials said, and the experiences and symptoms of the eight Canadians differed from those of the Americans.
Many U.S. officials who have dealt closely with the problem — including several who asserted that it has been distorted for political purposes — said they remain convinced that at least some of the Americans were deliberately targeted by a sophisticated enemy. Medical specialists who reviewed the patients’ files last summer concluded that while their symptoms could have many causes, they were “most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source,” the State Department medical director, Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, said. “No cause has been ruled out,” he added. “But the findings suggest this was not an episode of mass hysteria.”
Yet it appears that secrecy, psychology and politics may all have played some part in how the phenomenon spread through the staffs of the two Havana embassies. Administration officials have been reluctant to discuss psychological factors in the case, in part because they fear offending or antagonizing the stricken diplomats (many of whom already feel badly treated by the State Department leadership). But as the mystery has deepened, U.S. investigators have begun to look more closely at the insular, high-pressure world of the Havana embassy, and they have found a picture that is far more complex than the rhetoric and headlines have suggested.
Despite the many unanswered questions, Trump administration officials have repeatedly blamed Raúl Castro’s government for failing to protect the diplomats, if not actually attacking them. Early last fall, the State Department withdrew more than half of the diplomatic staff assigned to Havana, while ordering a proportional number of Cubans to leave Washington. The department also warned U.S. citizens they could be “at risk” of attack if they visit the island. “I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government, can bring this to an end,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said January 2018.
Such assertions have outraged the Cuban leadership. Since early last year, U.S. officials said, Castro and his senior aides have insisted they had nothing to do with the incidents and would help in any way they could to investigate and stop them. The FBI team has found no evidence of Cuban complicity in the incidents, officials said, and has privately emphasized the government’s cooperation with its investigators. Tillerson’s statements notwithstanding, some State Department officials have also told members of Congress privately that they have assessed the Cubans’ denials of involvement to be credible, officials said. “They believe the Cuban government wants better relations with the United States,” one Senate aide said.
The other obvious suspect has been Russia, which intelligence analysts have seen as having both a possible motive and the possible means to carry out such attacks. The Putin government has harassed U.S. diplomats routinely in Moscow and sometimes abroad; during the Obama administration, it appeared determined to disrupt American foreign policy around the world. Russia also has a capacity to engineer sophisticated new weapons and a longstanding security alliance with Cuba. But investigators have not found even significant circumstantial evidence of a Russian hand in the incidents, officials said, and some analysts doubt Russia would imperil its relationship with Cuba by so brazenly undermining one of its key foreign policy goals.
While the mystery continues, U.S. policy toward Cuba hangs in the balance. With Castro scheduled to step down from the presidency in April, Washington is represented in Havana by only a skeleton staff at a potentially critical moment of transition. American travel to and business with the island have fallen sharply in recent months, and the processing of visas for Cubans wanting to emigrate to the United States has plunged, calling into question the fulfillment of a longstanding migration agreement between the two countries. The Trump administration may also have limited its options: On March 4, the State Department will face a deadline to either send its diplomats back to Havana or make permanent staff reductions. But the Secretary of State, who reportedly made the decision to pull out the diplomats, has shown no signs of changing his position.
“We don’t know how to protect people from this, so why would I do that?” Tillerson told the Associated Press when asked about returning diplomats to Cuba. “I will push back on anybody who wants to force me to do that until I’m convinced that I’m not putting people in harm’s way.”
In the crossfire of accusations, ordinary Cubans might be forgiven for wondering if they have been transported back in time. As the country prepares to be led for the first time in almost 60 years by someone not named Castro, a tectonic shift that could profoundly affect how it is governed, cold war rhetoric has again filled the air. The next-generation Communist leader who is expected to succeed Raúl Castro, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, 56, is among those who have warned of yet another imperialist plot against Havana. They are “incredible fairy tales without any evidence,” he said of the Trump administration’s claims, “with the perverse intention of discrediting Cuba’s impeccable conduct.”
The first two incidents occurred around Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, which coincided with the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 25. During the nine days of official mourning that followed, neither American official told the embassy’s leadership what they had experienced. But both men, intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, would later say they heard sharp, disorienting sounds in their homes at night. At least one of them would later tell investigators the noise had seemed oddly focused, officials said. Moving out of the way or into another room, it seemed almost to disappear.
If the stories sounded like science fiction, the CIA’s Havana station and the embassy leadership suspected something more mundane. Since the United States and Cuba restored limited diplomatic relations in 1977, reopening their embassies as “interests sections” in each other’s capitals, the Cubans kept a constant, often aggressive watch over American diplomats in Havana. Diplomats might come home to find a window opened, or a television set turned on (often to government news), or their belongings slightly but obviously rearranged. Some part of the game — including more provocative actions like smearing dog feces on the handles of diplomats’ car doors — was considered almost routine. There was also some noted reciprocity from the American agents who trailed Cuban diplomats around Washington.
During periods of particular tension with Washington, the Cubans sometimes went further. In the early and mid-1990s, American diplomats who met with Cuban dissidents or otherwise annoyed the government occasionally returned from meetings to find their car tires punctured. In the mid-2000s, as the Bush administration openly pursued efforts to subvert the Castro regime, Cuban harassment of the 51 American diplomats then stationed on the island ranged from delays in the release of food shipments to “the poisoning of family pets,” the State Department’s inspector general wrote in a 2007 report.
The man who headed the American diplomatic mission in late 2016, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, knew that history of harassment well, officials said. A measured, laconic career diplomat with an air of hardened patience, DeLaurentis had taken over as the chargé d’affaires in the summer of 2014, bringing more Cuban experience than perhaps any other senior official in the U.S. government. He had done previous tours in Havana as both a consular officer and a political officer, with a stint in between managing Cuban affairs on the National Security Council staff. After Obama announced a plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014, he nominated DeLaurentis to be Washington’s first ambassador to Havana since 1961, when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations. (Although his confirmation was blocked by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who argued that Cuba should demonstrate greater respect for human rights before the post was filled, DeLaurentis remained as the chargé d’affaires.)
Obama’s visit in March 2016 had left Cuban leaders ambivalent about the hand of friendship he extended: Fidel Castro, ailing and almost 90, stirred from his retirement to attack the American president’s “syrupy words,” and what he saw as an insidious plea for Cubans to forget the Americans’ dark history with the island. At a Communist Party congress that April, Raúl Castro and others peppered their rhetoric with references to “the enemy” to the north. Diplomats also noted some palpable discomfort among senior Cuban officials with the burst of capitalist bling that marked the easing of U.S. commercial restrictions — a Chanel fashion show, a free Rolling Stones concert, the brief takeover of Havana streets to film scenes for a new “Fast and Furious” movie.
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) shakes hands with former US President Barack Obama, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the White House.)
But in the last months of 2016, official Cuban hostility toward the American diplomats in Havana was hovering somewhere near a 50-year low. No serious harassment had been reported for at least a few years, officials said. Most close analysts of Cuba believed the ruling party had forged a solid consensus for ending hostilities with the U.S. Fidel Castro’s last, angry diatribe notwithstanding, U.S. officials told ProPublica that he had been consulted on the rapprochement and given his approval.
While Cuban officials were notably slow to move forward with many of the proposed American business deals that poured in, they did plod ahead with work on bilateral agreements on law-enforcement cooperation, environmental protection, direct mail service and other matters. “Of course, there is a range of preferences within the regime on the speed and depth of reform,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former senior CIA analyst who handled Cuba issues on both the National Security Council staff and the National Intelligence Council. “But the debate is about the pace; there is no alternative to the Raúl strategy.”
The Cubans’ attention became more focused after the Nov. 8 presidential vote, American officials said. Although Trump had vowed during his campaign to renegotiate Obama’s “very weak agreement” with Havana, the Castro government had seemed to discount the possibility that he could be elected. Once Trump was elected — and with Obama administration officials urging the Cubans to consolidate improvements in the relationship — the Cuban government hurried to conclude work on pending agreements before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
It was during that same period between the election and the inauguration that the first U.S. intelligence officers were struck by what they described as strange noises. The initial three victims lived in the upscale neighborhoods of Havana’s western suburbs. Fidel Castro kept a home in one of those neighborhoods, Cubanacán, as do Vice President Díaz-Canel and other members of the island’s most-privileged elite. The elegant old mansions and tropical-suburban homes of the enclave are also favored by senior foreign diplomats and business executives. There is relatively little car or pedestrian traffic, and a considerable presence of private security guards as well as the Cuban police.
Although the first two officers would later report having first heard strange sounds in their homes back in late November, it was not until the end of December that the first victim sought help at the small medical clinic inside the embassy. That officer — the fit younger man in his 30s — came with a more serious complaint: He had developed headaches, hearing problems and a sharp pain in one ear, especially, following a strange experience in which something like a beam of sound seemed to have been directed at his home.
The younger man’s trauma was reported to DeLaurentis and the embassy’s diplomatic security chief, Anthony Spotti, on Dec. 30, State Department officials said, and followed by word that the two other CIA officers had experienced something similar about a month before. But inside the modernist glass-and-concrete chancery building that rises up along Havana’s iconic seawall, the Malecón, both the intelligence officials and senior diplomats guessed that the noises were “just another form of harassment” by the Cuban government, one official said. They also seemed carefully targeted to CIA officers working under diplomatic cover. If members of Cuba’s state-security apparatus did not know the men were intelligence officers, they would probably have suspected them anyway, the Americans believed.
The incidents were discussed discreetly among members of the embassy’s “country team,” the group of roughly 15 senior diplomats that would often meet daily to discuss significant issues. But, because of counterintelligence concerns, they were kept secret from most of the other American personnel — about 32 other diplomats and eight Marine guards — a decision that was later criticized by some of those who became sick. “We have security officers at every embassy and they give us constant updates,” one diplomat said. “Somebody gets pick-pocketed, somebody got their car broken into … And then somebody got attacked by this mystery weapon and they didn’t tell us?”
By mid-January, after the other two intelligence officers also sought medical attention at the embassy, the matter began to take on a more ominous cast, several officials said. Around the time that the first intelligence officers were sent to the U.S. for treatment on Feb. 6, the wife of another embassy staffer, who lived near the Havana coastline in the neighborhood of Flores, reported hearing similar, disturbing sounds, two officials familiar with her account said. The woman then looked outside and saw a van speeding away. The vehicle had apparently come from the same end of the street on which there was a house that was thought by U.S. officials to be used by the Cuban Interior Ministry. The officials acknowledged that the report was vague and uncertain. Yet they said it also constituted one of the more significant pieces of circumstantial information they had about the incidents.
In Havana, officials said, senior members of the embassy staff argued to their counterparts in Washington that they should formally protest the incidents to the Cuban government. Given the uncertainties, others thought they should try to gather more information before lodging such a complaint. Although it was a matter of concern at both the State Department and the CIA, it is unclear whether it was raised to the National Security Council staff before the decision to protest was made (one former senior official said it was not). Nor, officials said, was Secretary of State Tillerson informed of the situation until days after the department’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Francisco Palmieri, finally called in the Cuban ambassador in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, to present a diplomatic note of protest on Feb. 17.
The Cuban government responded promptly. A few days later, officials said, DeLaurentis was called to a meeting with Josefina Vidal, the senior diplomat who had led the Cuban team that negotiated the normalization of relations with the U.S. (DeLaurentis declined to comment, referring questions about the Havana incidents to the State Department.) Vidal was joined by other officials from the Interior Ministry, which controls the country’s foreign-intelligence and internal-security apparatus. The Cuban security officials questioned DeLaurentis about the incidents, what the diplomats had experienced, what symptoms they had suffered and what other circumstances might shed light on the episode, officials said.
On Feb. 23, less than a week after the U.S. démarche to the Cuban government, DeLaurentis accompanied two visiting U.S. senators, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to see President Raúl Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. During the conversation, officials said, Castro mentioned that he had something to discuss with the chargé, and when the meeting concluded, he asked DeLaurentis to stay behind. During what officials described as a fairly brief but substantive conversation, Castro made it clear that he was well aware of the incidents and understood that the Americans saw them as a serious problem. His response, one State Department official said, was “We should work together to try to solve it.”
The Americans’ meetings with Cuban diplomatic and security officials continued. The Cubans said they would bolster security around the homes of American diplomats, adding police patrols and installing closed-circuit television cameras in some areas. In a more unusual step, the Cubans also allowed a team of FBI investigators to come to Havana to investigate for themselves, building on improvements in the law-enforcement relationship that were formalized with a bilateral agreement in late 2016. (An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau would not comment on details of the investigation.)
From the start, U.S. officials were themselves reluctant to share information with Havana about the incidents. The Cubans asked to interview the Americans identified as victims; the State Department refused. The Cubans asked for detailed medical information about their injuries; the State Department demurred, citing privacy concerns. “You could not rule out” the Cuban government’s possible involvement in the incidents, one department official said. “When you are dealing with a possible perpetrator, one is careful.”
While the first embassy staff members were sent to be evaluated by specialists at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, officials in Washington also began to look more widely at what might be causing their symptoms. Initially, U.S. intelligence officials hypothesized that either the Cuban government or some other foreign regime — possibly with Cuban participation — had created a new kind of Long-range Acoustic Device, or L-Rad, enabling them to somehow focus and direct powerful sonic waves of the sort that are used by police agencies to disperse crowds, or by cargo ships to drive away pirates.
But the physics were puzzling to experts inside and outside of government. The incidents had mostly taken place at night, inside victims’ homes. Whatever sonic or directed-energy weapon was used seemed to have penetrated walls and windows. Yet others living in the immediate vicinity apparently heard nothing out of the ordinary. With known L-Rad technology, sound waves generally radiate out from the device. No one seemed to understand how it could be focused in an almost laser-like fashion and still penetrate hard surfaces.
After a lull of several weeks, the incidents began again — and there were more of them. One woman was struck in her apartment. Other diplomats were hit in their homes in the western suburbs. The differing circumstances only complicated the picture, but the effects of the phenomenon became clearer: The first patients examined in the U.S. were all found to have concrete medical symptoms, and in the case of the younger man, they were fairly serious.
On Friday, March 24, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his backyard around Thanksgiving encountered the younger man at work and heard about his frightening diagnosis in Miami. Doctors said the man had serious damage to the small bones inside one of his ears, among other issues, and would need to wear a hearing aid. The next Monday, he played the diplomat a recording of the noise with which he had been targeted. The diplomat was stunned: It sounded much like the noises that he and his family had heard from their garden for several months.
A day later, the diplomat went to see DeLaurentis in the spacious, fifth floor ambassadorial suite that looks out over the Malecón, officials familiar with the episode said. The diplomat explained that he, too, had been exposed to strange sounds that seemed similar to what the younger man had experienced. DeLaurentis said he and others who knew about the incidents believed they were confined to a “small universe of people” whom the Cubans probably suspected of doing intelligence work, whether they were CIA officers or not. The diplomat wasn’t reassured, and he suggested that others would not be, either. “You need to call a meeting,” the diplomat told DeLaurentis. “The rumor mill is going mad.'”
The next day, March 29, DeLaurentis gathered about four dozen members of the embassy’s American staff — everyone in the building who had a security clearance. This time, after surrendering their cell phones, they crowded into a windowless conference room that had been outfitted as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF (pronounced “skiff.”) It had already been more than a month since DeLaurentis delivered his formal complaint to the Cuban government, but most of the people in the room were hearing about the incidents for the first time.
According to three officials who attended the meeting, DeLaurentis calmly laid out the basic details of what some of the diplomats had experienced. There was much they still did not understand about what had happened and who might be behind it, he said, but investigations were underway, and the Cuban authorities were taking steps they had promised to increase the diplomats’ security. He encouraged anyone who thought they might have been exposed, or who had any information that could be relevant to contact him or speak with the embassy’s security officer. Medical specialists were available to examine anyone who showed signs of a problem.
If DeLaurentis was hoping to calm his troops, he appears to have been only modestly successful. Part of the problem, diplomats said, was that he concluded the meeting by asking the assembled staff to avoid talking about the situation outside the secure confines of the embassy, even with their families. Although the matter was still classified, that request struck at least some of them as unreasonable, even outrageous. “We thought that was nuts,” said one official who attended the meeting. “There were family members who were attacked at home. How could we not tell them to watch out for this?”
Concerns among the staff and their dependents about their health exploded. Within barely a month, diplomats reported a flurry of new incidents. By the end of April, more than 80 diplomats, family members and other personnel — a very high proportion for a mission that included about 55 American staff — had asked to be checked out by the Miami medical team. That group was led by an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Michael E. Hoffer, who has worked extensively with military veterans who suffered vestibular trauma from explosions and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Based on examinations in both Miami and Havana, it quickly identified almost a dozen new cases — nearly half the number that would eventually be confirmed.
The affected diplomats experienced a wide range of sensations: Some heard sharp, piercing noises or a cicada-like buzz. Others felt concentrated “beams” of sound or auditory vibrations like those from the half-open window of a fast-moving car. Still others heard no sound at all. According to a one-page summary of the cases that was jointly prepared for the Cuban government by the State Department’s bureaus of Medical Services and Western Hemisphere affairs, “Some voiced feeling shocked or shaken by the exposure, or awoken (sic) from sleep, and others described a more gradual onset of symptoms that continued for days to weeks afterwards.”
Amid the fear that gripped many, some embassy staff came forward saying they might have heard or felt similar phenomena, but were found after being interviewed not to require medical attention. Among the first 20 people examined by specialists in Havana and Miami, nine were found to have no discernable symptoms, while nine others had “moderate” effects like headaches, nausea, tinnitus and dizziness. Only two had what were termed “the most severe” effects, including the younger man who reported the first symptoms in late December.
After another lull of a few weeks, a disturbing new incident occurred in late April at the Hotel Capri, a 19-story landmark that was once a favorite of various Mafia dons and the actor Errol Flynn. Now run by a Spanish firm, the hotel was one of several used by the U.S. Embassy to put up diplomats and official visitors. Around April 21, an embassy staffer who was staying there during renovations on his apartment was shaken at night by a piercing noise in his room. A day or two later, an American doctor who had just flown in with the University of Miami team experienced a similar phenomenon. Both men had rooms with relatively large windows, an official said, yet other guests apparently nearby heard nothing.
This time, the embassy responded to the Cubans more vehemently. The diplomats who had been affected earlier had been living in their homes for some time. But the two new Americans who reported being struck were in hotel rooms that were presumably known only to a small number of U.S. and Cuban officials, and the hotel staff. The doctor had just arrived on the island a day or two earlier. “Who knew that he was there?” DeLaurentis demanded of the Cuban foreign ministry, according to one official familiar with the exchange. “The U.S. government. And the Cuban government.”
Within the Trump administration, anger over the incidents grew. On May 20, Cuba’s independence day, the president issued a statement warning that “cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans.” Three days later, the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats in Washington who had been identified by the U.S. as spies. The expulsions were not made public, and no word of the acoustic mystery in Havana leaked to the news media. Yet even as diplomats and law-enforcement officials from the two countries continued to collaborate on the investigation in a limited, low-key way, the relationship veered back toward confrontation.
The Trump administration was by then finalizing plans to undo Obama’s rapprochement. Exactly what it would roll back to was uncertain; Trump suggested that the Cubans had gotten off easy on human rights, but he offered no particular rebuttal to the argument made by State Department officials and others in the government that greater engagement with Cuba was the most effective way to promote economic and eventually political liberalization there. Some American business groups and more moderate Cuban-American political groups also pushed for continued engagement. But in a new administration that had not filled senior Latin America posts at the State Department or on the NSC staff, many officials said there was a vacuum of policy leadership on the issue.
That vacuum was filled above all by the former campaign rival whom Trump had disparaged as “Little Marco.” Starting soon after the administration’s first closed-door intelligence briefing to Congress on the Havana incidents, Rubio pushed for a tougher response, officials said, and also advocated a series of hardline proposals to the broader Cuba policy. The White House “asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Senator Rubio told McClatchy newspapers. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”
On June 16, Trump traveled to Miami to announce he was “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” Although the changes fell short of that, Trump ordered government agencies to revise regulations on travel and business to prohibit any transactions with hotels, restaurants, stores and other companies tied to the large tourism and business operations of the Cuban military. Americans other than Cuban-Americans would not be allowed to travel on their own for general tourism purposes, but only with organized educational and other groups on pre-set itineraries. Any further improvements in the bilateral relationship, Trump said, would be contingent on human rights improvements in Cuba. “Now that I am president,” Trump promised, “we will expose the crimes of the Castro regime!”
In Havana, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his garden was sent off to Miami in early April for medical testing with a cluster of other embassy personnel. He and his wife would return only to pack their things. Before leaving Cuba, though, he stopped to say goodbye at the home of one of his Canadian neighbors and tell him a bit about why they had to leave. The Canadian diplomat was worried: His family had been hearing similar sounds, he said. Could they have caused a mysterious nosebleed his son had suffered? Or headaches his wife had had?
In late April, DeLaurentis had invited over a small group of ambassadors from countries closely allied with the U.S. — Canada, Britain, France and others — to let them know what had been happening to his staff and ask if anyone else had experienced something similar. Other than one report from a French diplomat that was quickly discounted, the only significant response came from the embassy of Canada. In early May, the Canadian ambassador, Patrick Parisot, gathered the 18 diplomats on his staff to relay the Americans’ warning and ask if anyone had heard strange noises or suffered unusual illness. Several people reported back, a Canadian official said, including one (apparently the American diplomat’s neighbor) who said he had heard strange noises in his garden back in March.
As at the American embassy, fears about what was happening spread quickly through the Canadian staff. In all, 27 Canadian diplomats, spouses and children, representing 10 of the embassy’s families, sought medical attention. Of those, eight people from five families — including two children — would be diagnosed with symptoms that were milder than those of almost all the American patients: nosebleeds, dizziness, headaches and insomnia. All would recover fairly quickly.
In general, a Canadian official involved with the case said, the experience that triggered the Canadian diplomats’ symptoms was quite different from those reported by the Americans. In addition to the Canadian diplomat who said he had heard noises in his garden, members of another diplomatic family reported one day in June that they had heard a sudden, twanging sound, like a piece of sheet metal being waved; one family member later became ill. But the other six Canadians who were sickened did not hear or experience anything similar.
“In most cases, there weren’t really attacks that we could point to,” the Canadian official said. “The American experience was all about acoustic events and people feeling ill, and we had people feeling ill with limited connections to acoustic events.”
The Canadian foreign ministry also managed the issue very differently from the Americans, avoiding any criticism of the Cuban government. The ministry said it had no plans to reduce diplomatic staffing levels in Havana, and it quickly replaced the three embassy families that chose to return home because of the problem. The government also said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had received all the assistance it asked of the Cuban government. “The Cubans are pretty attached to the 1.2 million Canadian tourists who come to Cuba every year, so they’ve got a pretty strong incentive to nip this in the bud,” the official said. “They’ve been very proactive in trying to help us.”
However, the Canadian police have made virtually no real progress in their investigation, the official said, despite help from both the Cuban security forces and the FBI. After consulting with intelligence and technology experts, U.S. and Canadian security officials have recommended that diplomats and their families move away as quickly as possible from any unusual sound they might hear. The U.S. embassy also handed out high-frequency recorders so diplomats could record the noises, and relocated some of them from homes where the sounds or vibrations had been felt repeatedly.
The FBI investigative team, which has included members of a Miami-based unit that investigates crimes against U.S. citizens in Latin America, has visited Cuba four times since May. The group has interviewed diplomats and other officials of both countries, examined the homes and hotels where incidents took place, and conducted other inquiries. Their assessments have fed into elaborate matrices comparing the physical circumstances of the reported incidents with the sensations that the Americans described and the medical problems they later suffered. They also contributed to the still-secret report of the bureau’s Operational Technology Division on Jan. 4 that concluded that the Americans’ symptoms were not caused by some type of sonic device. (A State Department diplomatic security official, Todd Brown, said the investigators are still considering the possibility that sound was used to mask some other harmful agent or technology.)
The Havana investigation has also involved a wide range of U.S. scientific and technological agencies, including the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But officials said it is not clear that any of those have made significant progress, either. In addition to ultrasonic and infrasonic technologies, they have examined other directed-energy technologies. Some inquiry has also focused on the possible use of microwaves, harking back to the Moscow Signal, an episode from the 1970s in which Soviet intelligence beamed microwave signals into the U.S. embassy in Moscow to activate a passive receiver hidden in the office of the United States ambassador, officials said. Americans in the embassy were later reported to have been sickened by the phenomenon, but their symptoms did not closely resemble those suffered by diplomats in Cuba.
In interviews, former U.S. intelligence officers said they were also skeptical of the idea that the U.S. diplomats in Cuba might have been subjected to some new surveillance effort gone awry. Because the Cubans have always kept close tabs on American diplomats in Havana, they said, the security forces generally know they have little to fear from the recruitment or intelligence-gathering efforts of American spies stationed on the island. The intelligence experts also noted that the monitoring of diplomats at home is a labor-intensive task that would likely be reserved for the most important targets.
“In my experience, those operations at residences mean you end up sifting through a lot of trash,” said Charles S. (Sam) Faddis, a former senior CIA operations officer. “The product you get is filled with extraneous noise, daily life, every marital disagreement, the sounds of the TV, the kids, the dog. It seems like a lot of effort for that kind of target.”
Among the scientists whom the FBI team has sought out was Allen Sanborn, a biologist at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, who has spent 30 years studying cicada populations in Latin America and elsewhere. Dr. Sanborn said that while cicadas do make very loud noises, “it’s doubtful they could cause injury in Cuba because of the size and species.” He estimated that the Cuban cicada could reach a deafening 95 decibels at a distance of about 20 inches, but emphasized that the sound-pressure level would drop six decibels with every doubling distance. So, at 40 inches away, the sound intensity would fall to 89 decibels, and at 80 inches it would fall to 83 decibels, and so on. “It wouldn’t really hurt you unless it was shoved into your ear canal,” he said in an interview.
The four FBI agents who came to Dr. Sanborn’s home for the interview asked him a series of questions about insect calls in general and cicadas in particular. Then, they asked him to listen to about a dozen recordings made by American diplomats in Havana who had experienced what they thought at the time was some type of sonic attack. Some were shorter, some longer, Dr. Sanborn said, but all were about the same frequency and seemed to be the same sort of sound. He cautioned that the recordings were not of an extremely high quality, but he offered the agents his best judgement.
“The three possibilities are crickets, cicadas and katydids,” he said. “They sounded to me like cicadas.”
Dr. Sanborn said he gave the agents a couple of academic papers he has written that include analyses of the temporal patterns and spectral frequency of various cicada calls, but has not heard from them again.
Only the medical side of the investigation has produced somewhat more conclusive results. In early July, the State Department’s medical services bureau assembled a panel of neurological, otolaryngological and other experts to review the medical files of the Havana patients. The physicians allowed that at least some of what the diplomats had experienced could have come from other sources, including “viral illnesses, previous head trauma, aging, and even stress,” Dr. Rosenfarb said. But, he added, the experts’ consensus was that “the patterns of injuries that had so far been noted were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.”
There had been no new attacks since April, although some of those affected only reported their symptoms weeks or months later. But then, around Aug. 21, two more incidents were reported, at least one of them at the Hotel Nacional, a fortress of 1930s luxury not far from the Capri. Shortly after doctors confirmed on Sept. 1 that the two patients showed symptoms associated with the incidents, the State Department put the Havana mission on a “voluntary departure” status, allowing any of those serving there to leave with their families. The reason the department gave for the order was the impending Hurricane Irma, which raged across the north coast of the Island a few days later.
But many of those who left temporarily would not return, or would go back only to gather their belongings. In a sweeping, punitive action on Sept. 29, the State Department ordered home 24 of the 47 diplomats assigned to Havana, including all of those with families. It effectively shut down the embassy’s consular section except for emergency services. The department then ordered 15 more Cuban diplomats to leave Washington, including some involved in visa-processing and commercial affairs.
The department still did not accuse the Cuban government of direct involvement in what it called the Havana “attacks.” But it warned Americans not to travel to the island in terms more ominous than those sometimes used for some countries wracked by political upheaval, and caveats it offered about the continuity of diplomatic relations were quickly lost in the surging rhetoric. “There is no way that someone could carry out these number of attacks, with that kind of technology, without the Cubans knowing about it,” asserted Senator Rubio, who had again been urging a more forceful response. “They either did it, or they know who did it.”
The Cubans, Trump declared, “did some very bad things.”
It was a script that the Cuban government seemed to recognize. The foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, who had earlier called Trump’s Miami speech in June “a grotesque spectacle,” emphasized one point above others: The United States had presented no evidence whatsoever that the Cubans had done anything but try to help investigate the problem. Although the United States has suggested that Cuba have failed to live up to its responsibilities to protect foreign diplomats under the Vienna Conventions, Cuban officials have emphasized that Washington has not cited any specific actions the Cuban government has failed to take toward that end.
“Cuba has taken absolutely no measures at all against the United States,” Rodríguez said, referring to American sanctions. “It does not discriminate against its companies. It invites its citizens to visit us, promotes dialogue and bilateral cooperation.” The actions taken by the United States, he added, “can only benefit the sinister interests of a handful of people.”
Foreign-policy experts inside and outside the government generally agree that the Havana incidents seem to run counter to the interests of the Castro government. “The Cuban regime was not interested in antagonizing the Trump administration,” said Craig Deare, who was fired last February as the National Security Council’s senior Latin America specialist after he criticized Trump’s confrontational approach to Mexico. “It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.”
The diplomats’ expulsions and the travel warning, along with the earlier tightening of the embargo and the hurricane, have already cut the flow of American tourists to the island. American business activity has dropped off further, in part due to the departure of Cuban diplomats in Washington who set up meetings and processed visas. Cuban dissidents also have complained that declining tourism has badly hurt small, independent businesses like guest houses, family restaurants and the like.
The Cuban government’s own investigation into the incidents has been another central piece of its public relations counteroffensive. According to Cuban news accounts, some 2,000 people have been involved in the inquiry, in which police detectives have questioned neighbors of the diplomats (who said they did not recall hearing anything unusual), Cuban doctors (who wondered why the Americans had never sought attention for their acute problems) and their own battery of scientists and technologists.
Cuban engineers also analyzed recordings that officials said were made by the American diplomats. The engineers also concluded that the noises were at decibel levels too low to cause hearing loss — but that the primary sounds on the recordings were made by cicadas. Other Cuban scientists have suggested that the Americans’ illnesses were psychosomatic.
Despite months of scrutiny by American intelligence assets, officials said U.S. intelligence agencies have gathered virtually no secondary evidence that Cuba might have assisted directly or indirectly in attacks on the Americans. Nor is there any indication that the Cuban government has identified some rogue faction of security forces that might have wanted to undermine the rapprochement with Washington, officials said.
The idea of such a rogue element working to subvert a major government initiative has been bandied about frequently in Washington in recent months. Although the inner workings of the Castro regime have always been somewhat opaque to outsiders, many longtime analysts of the Cuban politics are skeptical. “It’s hugely ironic that the rogue faction theory is coming from exactly the same people who say the Cuban government knows absolutely everything that’s going on in the country,” Armstrong, the former senior CIA analyst, said. “But there has never been any evidence of rogue factions working outside the system.” He recalled that in the one case that perhaps came closest — the show-trial conviction of several influential military and intelligence officers for drug trafficking and other crimes in 1989 — there was even some circumstantial evidence that the illicit activities had been tolerated by superiors.
Other than a few wildly far-fetched possibilities — North Korean agents running around Havana, or perhaps a secret team of Venezuelan spies subverting their own government’s closest ally — that would seem to leave only Russia. For Moscow, helping to derail the hard-won entente between Washington and Havana might constitute a geopolitical masterstroke, some U.S. officials said. It would fit into the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign to undermine its western adversaries, using everything from espionage operations to election cyberattacks. Russia also has a long history of harassing American diplomats, a pattern that has intensified in Moscow since 2014, said Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank.
After some years of Cuban hostility following the Soviet Union’s collapse and Russia’s withdrawal of the vast subsidies it had provided for decades, the Kremlin has made new efforts to solidify the two countries’ strategic bond. Russia has helped to offset the loss of Venezuelan oil imports with 1.9 million barrels of fuel (estimated to be worth $105 million at discounted rates), and Russian exports to Cuba nearly doubled last year. In December, Raúl Castro received the head of the Russian state energy giant Rosneft, stirring speculation that a major oil-exploration or supply deal might be in the works. The two countries’ security relationship has also grown. In December of 2016, just as the incidents affecting U.S. personnel began, Russia and Cuba signed a new agreement on defense and technology cooperation.
Along with a possible motive, the Russians might have the technological means — or at least the capacity to have plausibly developed a directed-energy weapon that U.S. scientists could not identify. Yet by now, officials said, intelligence analysts would also have expected to have culled from electronic intercepts of overseas conversations at least some secondary evidence that the Russians might be involved — suspicious telephone or email conversations, suggestive messages, movements of Russian agents — something. But officials said they have found virtually nothing that would constitute real evidence. They also wonder whether Russia would risk its growing relationship with Cuba by carrying out an operation that could undermine the island’s most important diplomatic initiative in decades.
Even if Russia had developed some new and compact directed-energy weapon that could have been used to attack the American diplomats, there would still have been extremely complex logistical challenges to its deployment. Russian agents would presumably have had to locate at least two dozen American diplomats in Havana, reach them covertly and repeatedly, and in some of the most heavily policed areas of what many consider a police state. Nor have intelligence agencies documented tests of a similar weapon on some other target, or signs that Russia might have moved agents into Cuba to carry out such an operation.
In the continuing absence of any real evidence of how the Americans were stricken, the Trump administration appears to have no easy path forward. About 10 of the diplomats and spouses continue to undergo vestibular and neurological rehabilitation, both in Washington and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Some have moved on to new jobs in Washington or overseas, or have been kept busy in the Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau with such tasks as processing Freedom of Information Act requests or handling employment applications with the human resources staff, officials said.
By March 4, the State Department will have to decide whether to make the withdrawal of the diplomats a permanent reduction in staff. An internal department document obtained by ProPublica also suggests that the slowdown of consular activity may make it difficult for the United States to meet its commitment to processing at least 20,000 immigrant visas for Cubans this year, an annual target that is important to Cuban-Americans seeking to bring relatives from the island. American diplomats — including some of those forced to leave Havana — also say that the department has also reduced its ability to see, understand and perhaps influence what is happening in Cuba at a potentially historic transition point.
“Our diplomats want to go back,” one American official who has been extensively briefed on the developments in Havana said. “But if you can’t get to the bottom of this situation, how does that happen?”
Animal companions are a highlight of the post-service life of veterans. Loyal, trained to take care of your health needs and they keep depression at bay. Watching your dog get into mischief and then freezing in place when you catch them red-handed is priceless. Pets are best reserved for the transition into civilian hood. Pets are not allowed in the barracks for 5 valid reasons.
1. The quad would be a biohazard
Imagine morning formation followed by the routine physical fitness time. The detail leader rounds the group over to the quad and everyone stretches. The group assumes the push up position when suddenly you feel something very warm, oozing between your fingers. Not everyone picks up after their animals — that’s why we passed laws forcing people to do it. Now imagine 5,000 troops in a battalion with a furry friend.
The benefit of those pristine training areas is that you do not have to worry about animal waste like you would in a park. The threat of slipping on a log that is an incubus of viral plague would become an everyday occurrence. Most people would pick up after their animals but enough people would not that it would affect the readiness of our warfighting organizations.
2. Field Ops
The animal’s health and wellbeing are also a concern when troops have to go on weeklong field ops. Other times troops train across state lines for months at a time. Who is going to feed the pet? Pets get lonely too. Pets, like people, become resentful when they feel abandoned. A person can be made to understand why you are absent from their life but an animal, in their innocence, cannot.
3. Not everyone is a pet person
Let’s face the ugly truth head on, some people aren’t meant to raise an animal. How many times have you seen a pet owner do the bear minimum to keep their pet a live? Why even have one at all. Statistically speaking, an increased rate of pet ownership is going to increase the rate of abuse. Neglect is a type of abuse, just feeding an animal subpar food with no attention or exercise is cruelty. Now, I’m not saying service members would intentionally neglect pets. However, the opportunity for that problem to exist in a barracks setting is a realistic concern.
Imagine the noise of all those cats, dogs and birds housed closely together. Now imagine every time the duty roves his post he sets off every single one of them into a barking frenzy at 0300.
4. They would escape
Animals are curious and full of energy. Naturally, some would want to explore the world by any means necessary. Room inspections would become near impossible. Troops would go UA and AWOL looking for their pets not caring about the consequences. It would present a new kind of discipline problem. Never underestimate the loyalty an active duty troop would have to their pet.
5. Troops would be happy
Troops would be happy, especially Marines. We can’t have Marines getting off work happy — it would be pandemonium. The world would end, there would be peace on earth, even Jesus would come back. No one would end their active service or retire. America needs her troops to be mean and lethal. No one is going to be angry enough to invade another country when they feel fulfilled in life.
As moviegoers flock to their local cinemas to watch the latest installment of Star Wars, it’s important to remember that the whole film franchise wouldn’t be what it is today without the efforts of a young, highly motivated individual, named Luke Skywalker, who had big dreams, but was stuck in a small town.
The original film follows his dynamic journey from living with his uncle’s family to joining the resistance and taking down a dark empire.
It takes a unique character with big aspirations to pull all that off, and it makes us wish Luke was in our squad.
He needs to work on that salute, though. (Image via GIPHY)
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the vet who needs his stocking stuffed:
~ .50 cal bottle openers to start the round (and the reminiscing) off right ~
Sometimes getting things rolling is the easy part. Like many entrepreneurs with a good idea, former SEAL Eli Crane found out that success, especially when it comes in a rush, can be a much more difficult hurdle to clear.
In Nov. 2014, Crane, along with his wife and co-founder, Jen, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch for investment in their boot-strapped company, Bottle Breacher. They went into it boasting a homemade (but sturdy) garage manufacturing set-up and $500k in sales of their flagship product, a bottle opener fashioned from recycled, authentic decommissioned .50 caliber bullet shells.
Impressed by their story (and all a’flutter with the patriotic warm’n’fuzzies), Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary went halvsies on a $150k capital investment for 10% equity each. The Cranes had aced the most public version of an entrepreneurial rite of passage. Happy days all the way to the bank, right?
Well, yeah, but also some rough weeks ahead as the instant publicity they received from their appearance flooded their fulfillment queue with some 20,000 orders, drastically overmatching their output capacity. Bottle Breacher was in for a brutal bout of growing pains.
Happily, the same grit that got Crane through BUD/S on his second try – along with the smarts that led him to switch to business after 5 overseas deployments – came together in a massive Bottle Breacher systems overhaul. In just over a month, the Cranes identified and busted through their production bottleneck (yeah, sorry) and caught up on all their outstanding orders.
And that was good news because Crane is a genius at product iteration and the production backlog had also made it impossible for him to release a bunch of his newest designs. These days, Bottle Breacher sells Freedom Frags, Breacher BBQ Tools, Wine Bottle Breachers, Whiskey Bullets and much, much more in their quest to be the #1 supplier of patriotic party ammunition to a grateful and thirsty nation.
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
Every day, I am so thankful to live this Coast Guard life and to interact with our incredible members and families. I’m fortunate to know the unique and valuable service that the Coast Guard provides to our country — and, I hope that after reading this, you will too!
The Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security.
The U.S. Coast Guard is simultaneously and at all times a military force and federal law enforcement agency dedicated to maritime safety, security, and stewardship missions.
The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations of the federal government, and until the Navy Department was established in 1798, we served as the nation’s only armed force afloat.
The origins of the Coast Guard date back 1790 – this August 4th marked the Coast Guard’s 228th birthday. From our earliest days as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service — to today, as the Coast Guard, our service has always been Semper Paratus (Always Ready) to serve our Nation.
USCGC Northland in Greenland, 1944.
(US Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard has served in every war and major conflict since our founding.
The Coast Guard has a long and distinguished history of service. During the Quasi-War with France, the first “war” fought by the United States, revenue cutters first upheld the new nation’s dignity on the high seas. On April 12th, 1861, the Revenue Cutter Service cutter Harriet Lane fired the first naval shot of the Civil War. During World War II, the Coast Guard made the first capture of enemy forces by any U.S. service when the cutter Northland seized the Norwegian vessel Buskoe off the coast of Greenland. During Operation Desert Storm, a USCG tactical port security boat was the first boat to enter the newly reopened harbor in Kuwait City, Kuwait. And, just recently, the CGC Nathan Bruckenthal was commissioned in honor of fallen Coast Guard hero, Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal.
The Coast Guard deploys.
As you read this, Coast Guard service members are “standing the watch” — often far from home. Depending on the assignment, members may be gone for several months to a year or more. Many of our members will depart on patrols multiple times per year.
The Coast Guard serves all over the world.
The Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways, and safeguards an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from North of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, from Puerto Rico to Guam, encompassing nine time zones — the largest EEZ in the world. The Coast Guard has personnel assigned to eight DoD Combatant Commands and often has presence on all seven continents and the world’s oceans.
U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Miller, foreground, displays a forward weapons posture during a tactical weapons handling exercise with the visit, board, search and seizure team aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81).
The Coast Guard is a unique, multi-mission, maritime military force.
The Coast Guard manages six major operational mission programs: Maritime Law Enforcement, Maritime Response, Maritime Prevention, Marine Transportation System Management, Maritime Security Operations, and Defense Operations. And these six mission programs oversee 11 Missions codified in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
The Coast Guard does a lot in one day.
On an average day, the Coast Guard: conducts 45 search and rescue cases; saves 10 lives; saves over id=”listicle-2593975624″.2 million in property; seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana; conducts 57 waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure; interdicts 17 illegal migrants; escorts 5 high-capacity passenger vessels; conducts 24 security boardings in and around U.S. ports; screens 360 merchant vessels for potential security threats prior to arrival in U.S. ports; conducts 14 fisheries conservation boardings; services 82 buoys and fixed aids to navigation; investigates 35 pollution incidents; completes 26 safety examinations on foreign vessels; conducts 105 marine inspections; investigates 14 marine casualties involving commercial vessels; facilitates movement of .7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.
The Coast Guard is small, but mighty!
With approximately 40,992 active duty members and 7,000 reserve members, the Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the armed forces, but everyday I am in awe of the incredible things that our members accomplish. I couldn’t be more proud.
Crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax render honors during the Queen of the Fleet ceremony.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelly)
The oldest cutter in active service, Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, was commissioned on November 1, 1944.
As the oldest commissioned cutter, Smilax proudly carries the title the “Queen of the Fleet” and a gold hull number. What an amazing testament to the talented individuals who maintain our assets!
America’s Coast Guard is Ready, Relevant, and Responsive.
Learn more about our Commandant’s Guiding Principles here.
BONUS: The Coast Guard has a Disney connection.
Walt Disney drew the logo for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Corsair Fleet during World War II (featuring Donald Duck). Walt Disney also created a special design for the Coast Guard Cutter 83359.
WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.
And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.
On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”
Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.
It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.
This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.
Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.
Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:
The face of air security has changed a lot since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, but one thing has stayed constant: you’re not allowed to bring bombs on planes. No, not even fake ones.
A passenger apparently forgot that on Saturday when he packed a high-quality, realistic replica grenade in his checked luggage at Newark Liberty International Airport near New York City.
The right way to pack a grenade is not to pack it at all. Passenger at @EWRairport had this in his checked bag on Saturday. @TSA contacted police, who removed man from plane for questioning. Explosives experts determined that it was a realistic replica, also not allowed on planespic.twitter.com/LCtUtnnzFq
The replica grenade was found by workers at a checked baggage-screening point at the airport’s Terminal A, according to Lisa Farbstein, a spokesperson for TSA.
The TSA reported the grenade to the Port Authority Police Department, which polices the New York City-area airports. As the passenger was removed from the plane and questioned, police officers examined the grenade and confirmed that it was not active.
The passenger was not charged, and there was no disruption to flights or security screening at the terminal. However, the passenger ended up short a fake grenade: prohibited items are not returned to passengers, according to Farbstein.
This was not the only episode of an explosive — real or replica — found at airport security in recent days.
.@TSA officers at @BWI_Airport detected this missile launcher in a checked bag early this morning. Man said he was bringing it back from Kuwait as a souvenir. Perhaps he should have picked up a keychain instead!pic.twitter.com/AQ4VBPtViG
On Monday morning, TSA screeners at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport found a real missile launcher, minus missile, in a passenger’s checked bag. The passenger, who is an active-duty servicemember, said that it was a souvenir from Kuwait. After airport police confirmed that there was no live missile in the launcher, officers transferred the device to the state fire marshal for disposal.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Comedy writer and performer Bill Dana, who won stardom in the 1950s and ’60s with his character Jose Jimenez, has died.
Dana died June 15th at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, according to Emerson College, his alma mater. He was 92.
Dana served as an Army infantryman during World War II and earned the Bronze Star.
Early in his career, Dana wrote jokes for Don Adams and Steve Allen, on whose show he served as head writer. It was for a sketch on “The Steve Allen Show” that Dana created Jose Jimenez, which eventually led to his own NBC sitcom, “The Bill Dana Show,” which aired from 1963-1965.
The character’s shy, Spanish-accented introduction, “My name … Jose … Jimenez,” became a national catchphrase.
Dana became a favorite of NASA’s Mercury astronauts, eventually being named as the honorary 8th member of the first team of Americans in space.
Dana recorded eight best-selling comedy albums, and made many TV appearances while continuing behind the scenes as a comedy writer.
On the morning of June 7, 1917, after a dry quip to journalists about how he didn’t know whether he and his men’s actions “shall change history tomorrow,” but would “certainly alter the geography,” a British major general ordered a series of mines set off, detonating an almost 1 million pounds of explosives, killing about 1,000 German soldiers, and causing leaders in London —about 130 miles away — to hear the explosion.
A howitzer crew provides fire support during the infantry assault at the Battle of Messines Ridge.
(National Library of Scotland)
It all started soon after World War I descended from a fast-paced maneuver war into the trench-warfare stalemate that would define the conflict. Allied troops facing Germans in Belgium were, like their brethren in the trenches southward across France, quickly demoralized as the war ground on, thousands died, and almost no significant changes were made to the balance of the war.
People were dying by the thousands to seemingly no effect. So, some British officers came up with a plan to shift the line in Belgium by putting in years of work that would guarantee an eventual victory far in the future.
The plan was changed, overhauled, and refined plenty of times in those two years, but the basic underpinnings stayed the same. Near the village of Messines in Belgium, British tunnelers got to work digging towards and then under the German lines along the ridge that dominated the area. This digging operation would continue for two years.
Sappers dig a communication trench near Messines Ridge after the explosion that essentially handed the area to the British. Engineers had worked for nearly two years to dig the original tunnels that made the explosion possible.
(Imperial War Museums)
Shafts were dug across the front, and some were dug as deep as 100 feet and then filled with strong explosives. On top of these subterranean towers of explosives, each major stockpile had a mine that would act as the initiation device.
For German soldiers and officers, this was obviously a nightmare. For those directly over the explosion, the nightmare was over instantly. The Earth erupted around them like a volcano. The earth shook and shot into the sky. Men were wrecked by the blast and then survivors were buried alive in the debris. Approximately 1 millions pounds of explosives were used in the blast.
Soldiers share a smoke on June 10 during the Battle of Messines. The Battle of Messines Ridge had kicked off the British advance and given them a huge advantage when engineers successfully set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives beneath a key ridge.
(Imperial War Museums)
But the slight breaks between explosions meant that, for minutes afterwards, German troops and officers were terrified that more explosions were coming, that they would be killed or buried in a sudden tower of fire and dirt.
Meanwhile, British troops had been staged to take advantage of the sudden opening in the lines. Many were knocked down by the initial blast despite staging hundreds of yards away. But they stood up and attacked the German lines. What had been a ridge was now a series of major craters, and the British were determined to take them.
The British had known that a large explosion was coming, though many individual soldiers didn’t know the exact details, and so they were able to rally much faster than the Germans. The British infantry assault, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage, successfully captured 7,000 survivors in addition to the 10,000 that the explosions had killed.
And the British were left holding what was left of the ridge. The Germans retreated and this allowed Britain to launch more attacks into Ypres. The Battle of Messines Ridge had been a great success, though the Ypres Offensive it enabled was less so. The idea for the larger offensive had been to capture the German U-Boat pens on the Belgian coast, but the openings at Messines Ridge didn’t eliminate the German defenses further on.
The Ypres Offensive was launched on July 31, just weeks after the explosions at Messines, but Germans fiercely contested the assaults and launched counterattacks of their own. The offensive was, ostensibly, an Allied victory. The Allies took Ypres and a lot of other territory, but suffered 275,000 casualties to Germany’s 220,000.
That’s why most of the world has forgotten the detonation at Messines Ridge. It was one of the largest man-made explosions in history at the time and it allowed the British to pull a victory, seemingly out of thin air. But its strategic impact didn’t last.
Directly aligned with the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s call to be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, F-35A Lightning IIs from the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron participated in Exercise Agile Lightning, Aug. 4-7, 2019.
“Exercise Agile Lightning is a demonstration of the agile basing concepts practiced by Air Force fighter squadrons from their home bases,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th EFS commander. “The “Fightin’ Fuujins” of the 4th EFS successfully deployed a small detachment of aircraft and personnel to a forward location, supporting combat operations from that location for a given period of time and then re-deployed back to our primary operating location.”
The 4th EFS and the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron are both assigned to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and temporarily deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia.
Adaptive basing exercises require all levels of the squadron to deploy small teams of airmen and aircraft for a short amount of time to hone their skills. This was the first adaptive basing methodology exercise for the F-35A in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron during Exercise Agile Lightning Aug. 6, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)
“By executing the adaptive basing concepts we have only practiced at home until now, we increased the readiness, survivability and lethality of the F-35A in a combat theater,” Arki said. “The Agile Lightning team worked hard to coordinate with multiple bases and across U.S. Air Force core disciplines, such as logistics, munitions, force support, communications, air mobility, Combined Air Operations Center staff, etc., to ensure mission success.”
While deployed to the 332nd AEW, the 4th EFS was able to complete essential missions vital to the defense of U.S. assets and personnel and continued to project air power.
Maintainers of the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, disembark from a C-17 Globemaster III for Exercise Agile Lightning at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia, Aug. 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by AFCENT PA)
“We were able to safely bring the jets and people here to continue supporting operations with a hundred percent mission effectiveness,” said Capt. “Cheque,” 4th EFS pilot. “We were also able to gather lessons learned for untethered operations within the AOR, so that we can more quickly and more efficiently accomplish adaptive basing in the future.”
Adaptive basing methodology is still in its beginning stages. However, it’s being practiced throughout the Air Force, demonstrating for adversaries and allies that with untethered operations, aircraft are able to adapt and respond as necessary to the often unpredictable operational environment.
Airmen from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron transport gear in preparation for Exercise Agile Lightning at the 332 AEW, Southwest Asia, Aug. 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by AFCENT PA)
“Our adversaries must know that the 4th EFS, the Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and by extension, the entire F-35A enterprise are not only lethal but extremely agile,” Arki said. “We are prepared to defend U.S. and coalition interests from nearly anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.”
It took airmen from all levels working together to successfully operate a fifth-generation aircraft mission in austere conditions.
“The professionalism, determination and hard work of the detachment of pilots, maintainers and support personnel made a significantly challenging task look easy,” Arki said. “The accomplishments of the Agile Lightning team proved once again that the Fuujins Rock!”
A NATO-led training exercise focused on anti-submarine warfare ASW just kicked off in the north Atlantic.
Naval forces from more than 10 nations, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Norway, and Iceland, will be out in force off the coast of Iceland to hone their skills in hunting down and destroying enemy submarines as part of Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.
Running from June 27 to July 6, the training will feature warships, submarines, and maritime patrol aircraft.
“The presence of NATO in the waters south of Iceland is a a sign of an increased focus on the North Atlantic and will strengthen the Alliance’s knowledge and experience of the area,” Arnor Sigurjonsson Director, Department of Security and Defense, Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told Naval Today.
The US Navy is bringing in a Los Angeles-class fast attack sub, an Arleigh Burke-guided missile destroyer, one P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and two P-3C Orion aircraft, both of which are designed to hunt down subs and surface vessels from the air.
“We look forward to this training opportunity with our NATO allies and partners,” Capt. Roger Meyer, commander, Task Force 69, said in a statement. “While promoting international security and stability, Dynamic Mongoose will serve to fortify theater ASW capabilities, enhance interoperability, and strengthen alliances within the European theater.”
The exercise comes amid increasing tensions with Moscow, which has complained about NATO’s acceptance of Montenegro into the alliance and Norway’s recent decision to host more than 300 US Marines in its country for at least another year.
Got an hour or 24? Starting a new show, especially a really good one, can be as exciting as riding a roller coaster, boasts a much lower risk of exposure to COVID-19 and provides days of entertainment rather than minutes.
Dive into these series about the military and government to keep quarantine interesting. While our recommendations include both the classic and the cutting edge, they’ll all keep you entertained and might even teach you something in the process.
Where to watch: Hulu Rating: TV-PG
Ah, the classic. M*A*S*H is one of the most popular television series of the past 30 years, depicting life in a hospital base during the Korean War. Running from its first airing in 1972 to 1983, the series proved to be a quintessential series of the 70s. It’s a sitcom, but an abnormal one; each episode has a completely different tone and discusses a diverse range of topics.
That’s part of what makes M*A*S*H so great — it’s an excellent show to watch with family and everyone is guaranteed plenty of laughs while watching, but it also delves into heavier scenarios. Its flexibility is unmatched in film today. M*A*S*H boasts well-known actors such as Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, David Odgen Stiers and Gary Burghoff and has won several Emmy awards. If you haven’t already enjoyed M*A*S*H, seasons one through 11 are available for viewing on Hulu.
2: Madam Secretary
Where to watch: Netflix Rating: TV-PG
Heartwarming yet surprisingly suspenseful, Madam Secretary made me proud to live under the U.S. government. The family drama depicts fictional Elizabeth McCord, U.S. Secretary of State, as she navigates realistic diplomatic issues in the White House. The series also showcases her homelife as she balances being a working mom and life with her husband Henry McCord, a CIA operative and ethics professor. Tea Leoni plays the lead role of Elizabeth McCord and produced the series as well. The greatest appeal of Madam Secretary is its versatility – it’s easy to watch with family due to its subplot regarding Elizabeth’s home life, and gripping enough to binge by yourself, too. It sounds hard to believe, but take it from someone with an attention span shorter than the average TikTok – you’ll be invested in Elizabeth’s diplomatic dilemmas. Seasons one through 6 are available on Netflix, and additional episodes are on HBO.
3: West Wing
Where to watch: Netflix Rating: TV-14
West Wing depicts the political excursions of the White House staff and cabinet members of fictional president Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet. This series is similar to Madam Secretary, but can be seen as more of a “political epic.” As the series continues and each member of the staff’s personality is portrayed, the show’s superb writing and thorough characterization shine. Actors Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe and Allison Janney star in the show, and the series boasts 27 Emmy awards. Additionally, TV Guide ranked it the “#7 TV drama of all time.” While President Bartlet is a democrat, the show stands out for its depiction of modern issues from an apolitical perspective, highlighting the nuance behind bipartisan decision making. Not to mention, incredible acting for well-written characters.
4: TURN: Washington’s Spies
Where to watch: Netflix Rating: TV-14
This one’s a bit more historical. Set in 1778, Washington’s Spies depicts a seemingly ordinary farmer who spies on British Loyalists and soldiers for the blooming American government. This one will appeal to anyone who’s been into Hamilton, which – be honest – is probably more of us than we’d like to admit. It’s got all the good military action combined with the appealing, tried-and-true trope of an undercover spy, topped off with rich history. Parents will enjoy the espionage and historical subplots, while kids will enjoy the rich action. A crowd pleaser all around. Seasons one through four are available on Netflix.
Where to watch: HBO Rating: TV-MA
Veep, considering the profanity, probably isn’t a series to watch with younger audiences, but its satirical take on politics brings a hilarity unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The series depicts the career and personal life of Selina Meyer, the newly elected Vice President of the United States, and her dysfunctional relationship with the president and her staff. Veep is refreshing because political roles – even high up ones – aren’t glorified, as they are in so many other series. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina and the show runs for 65 episodes on HBO.
Where to watch: Hulu, Showtime Rating: TV-MA
Homeland, while portraying American intelligence in a gripping way, is leagues above other shows listed because of its plot. It’s exciting above all else, and stays interesting and fresh as it follows main character Carrie Mathison. Carrie’s inner demons provide conflicts just as tangible as terrorism threats, and while the seasons build up to climactic, explosive endings, Carrie’s character pulls the show eight seasons. Available on Hulu and Showtime, Homeland stars Claire Danes as Carrie as well as Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend, and Maury Sterling.
7: Jack Ryan
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video Rating: TV-MA
Those who fell in love with John Krasinski in The Office will be especially attracted to Jack Ryan – and I don’t just mean the grade school kids who obsess over Jim and Pam. Those of us who have seen Krasinski act in and produce other media know he’s capable of amazing character evolution and series production, and Jack Ryan is no exception. In fact, this show very well may be the best example of his abilities. Season one follows Ryan as he tracks bank activity from Suleiman, an Islamic extremist, and is faced with more action than he ever faced in his intelligence work. Originally released on Amazon Prime in 2018, Jack Ryan quickly became very popular and was later nominated for several Emmy awards. Season two depicts Ryan entangled in Venezuela corruption and political unrest. Jack Ryan should be a go-to when looking for a short action series that’s as eventful as our imagined roller coaster.
8: Band of Brothers
Where to watch: HBO Rating: TV-MA
The 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers reminds me of a mini pack of MM’s. Following “Easy Company,” a battalion during World War II, Band of Brothers dedicates one episode to each central member. The miniseries is historically accurate, and each episode depicts the actual experience of each member, with the narratives engaging enough to compel the viewer to keep watching more. It’s the classic “one more episode!” approach to every show worth binge watching, and realistically, have you ever only eaten a half of a pack of MMs? From the pilot episode, you want to keep going; the tantalizing string of episodes makes up for what it lacks in length by stellar acting, screenwriting and a hell of a plot. Actors include David Frankel, Mikael Salomon, Tom Hanks and David Leland. It’s produced by Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks and won seven Emmy awards.
9: The Spy
Where to watch: Netflix Rating: TV-MA
Ah, another historically accurate miniseries! The Spy portrays the mission of spy Eli Cohen during the often-overlooked six day war between Israel and Syria. Taking place in 1967, the miniseries follows the aforementioned Eli Cohen as he spies on the Syrian government for the Israeli Intelligence Agency (Mossad). Cohen establishes himself among Syria’s elite, and is promoted in the Syrian military. The series is only six episodes, and therefore is a quick watch. Similar to Band of Brothers, The Spy leaves you wanting more after each episode. It’s available on Netflix.
10: The Blacklist
Where to watch: Netflix Rating: TV-14
The Blacklist depicts the endeavors of ex-crime boss Red Reddington and his requested FBI forensic psychologist partner, Elizabeth Keen, as the duo take down crime lords that Reddington used to work with. Each episode depicts the pursuit of a criminal so cunning and covert they aren’t even known to authorities. Reddington’s assistance in the mission. The Blacklist stands out for its refreshing take on a classic crime trope, and keeps the viewer interested with the clues into the nature of the personal lives of Reddington and Keen. Spanning seven seasons, The Blacklist is easy to binge watch or to fall back onto when tired of other shows. It stars James Spader and Megan Boone and won the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy in 2014.