The United States and NATO may not have enough troops in Afghanistan to carry out President Trump’s strategy to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That is what Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of United States Forces Afghanistan, is saying.
Nicholson, who is responsible for carrying out Operation Resolute Support, expressed that belief during a press briefing at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels, Belgium.
“This year, we fought most of the year — however, at the lowest level of capability that we’ve ever had in the 16 years. So it was the lowest level of capability and the highest level of risk we’ve faced in this time. Part of the reason for the higher risk was [that] we’re only at 80 percent. We were only at an 80 percent fill on our combined joint statement of requirements,” Nicholson said during the briefing.
During the briefing, Nicholson also noted that the force may look into hiring contractors – specifically, retired cops – to help train Afghan police. “That’s — that’s not my first choice. We’d rather have serving police officers — serving police professionals to come into those roles,” he said of that approach. Nicholson also noted that the first Security Force Assistance Brigade will be deploying to Afghanistan next year.
President Trump unveiled his Afghanistan strategy in August, in which he defined victory as “attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America.”
There have been a few developments in the stealth world in February 2018 with Russia deploying its Su-57 to Syria and China announcing its J-20 is combat ready.
With more countries now fielding and trying to market stealth jets, Business Insider spoke to Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at the thinktank CNA and fellow at the Wilson Center focusing on Russia’s military and defense, about how the Su-57 and the J-20 match up with the US’s stealth planes.
The partial transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
Daniel Brown: What are your general thoughts on the recent deployment of the Su-57 to Syria?
Michael Kofman: They deployed them to Syria really for two reasons. One is to change the narrative that’s been going on in Syria for the last couple weeks and take a lot of media attention to the Su-57. And second is to actually demo it in the hope that there might be interested buyers, as they have deployed a number of weapons systems to Syria.
They’re always looking for more investors in that technology. Fifth-generation aircraft are expensive.
Kofman: I think it’s a stealthier aircraft than your typical fourth-generation design. I don’t think it matches the stealth capability of the F-22 or F-35, nor does it match the price tag of them. I think it’s a poor man’s stealth aircraft. I think it’ll be a very capable platform. I don’t think it’ll match or compete in the low-observation rules that US aircraft do.
On the other hand, it will definitely be a step above a fourth-generation aircraft — in terms of how maneuverable it is, Russian aircraft are always very capable, very maneuverable.
The F-22 is actually really good in maneuverability, too. The F-35 not so much, but the F-22 is actually a brilliant aircraft. We still have a lot of them. But the Su-57 is not meant to be a direct competitor to the F-22 or F-35.
Brown: That’s how Russia seems to be marketing it.
Kofman: Yeah, I’m sure some guy thinks his Honda Civic is better than my BMW.
Here’s the thing you’ve got to understand: There is a fifth-generation market out there. Where can you go to get a fifth-generation aircraft? The US is very tight on technology with the F-35. The only other people that have one in development is the Chinese.
So, here’s the real question: Is the Su-57 better than the J-20?
Kofman: Well, it’s certainly far — if not further — along in technology design.
Here’s what it’s important: At the core of every plane is the engine — it’s all about the engine. Everything else is super cool, but it’s all about the engine.
The Su-57 is not in serial production because they’ve not finished the engine for it. It is flying on an upgraded engine from the Su-35S, so it cannot be a fifth-generation aircraft yet.
Now, is it low-observable relative to the Su-35? Yes. Is it low-observable relative to F-35? No. But you know what, if it was, probably no one would be able to afford it, least of all Russia. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the affordable.
Brown: What do you think about the J-20 compared to the F-22 or the Su-57? Where does it stand?
Kofman: I suspect that the J-20 probably has great avionics and software but, as always, has terrible engine design. In fact, early Chinese low-observation aircraft designs are all based on ancient Russian Klimov engines because the Chinese can’t make an engine.
That’s where I think it stands. In terms of observation, when I look at it, I suspect it also has a lot of stealth issues.
A Marine who was present for the Battle of Iwo Jima’s history-making flag-raising has died days before the battle’s 76th anniversary.
Elwood “Woody” Hughes died Feb. 2 at age 95, the Daily Herald newspaper reported. Hughes, of Illinois, landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 22, 1945, the day before the flag-raising. He was a private first class at the time, who had joined the Corps in 1943 and had served under legendary Marine Corps Gen. H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, known as the father of U.S. amphibious warfare.
In a 2020 interview with American Veterans Center, Hughes described being part of the 5th Amphibious Corps Signal Battalion attached to the 5th Marine Division. He worked with the famous Navajo Code Talkers, once delivering an urgent message for relay. He described his role on the island as that of a runner or “gofer,” downplaying the danger of his work. But he admitted he could hear the close “rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire” from the command center.
“We were very close to mortar fire … we would get a siren … they would tell you to take cover,” he said.Advertisement
Hughes, who was an active member of his Marine Corps League detachment in Arlington Heights, Illinois, called the Battle of Iwo Jima the “most historic event in the history of the United States,” but said he spoke about it in tribute to those who gave their all in the battle.
“They kind of treat people like me as a celebrity and a hero, and I feel I’m not. I shouldn’t be, because the heroes never walked off of Iwo Jima,” he said in the 2020 interview. “I feel I’m doing it more for the honor of those who sacrificed their lives on Iwo Jima.”
The Battle of Iwo Jima stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945, and involved some 70,000 U.S. Marines. It was a consequential, but costly, U.S. victory; with nearly 7,000 Marine casualties, it was the bloodiest battle of the Corps’ history.
The Marines’ raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi became a symbol of the Corps’ indomitable spirit.
Then-Navy Secretary James Forrestal reportedly said, “The flag-raising on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”
Hughes was also known in his community as a longtime high school basketball coach and physical education teacher, according to news reports and his obituary.
“Due to his vivacious character and his unique outgoing style, Woody was instantly likable to all who met him. He was often remembered for his smile, a story, and a gleam in his eye,” his obituary reads. ” … Woody will be greatly missed by all those who know him.”
Lockheed Martin, the leading manufacturer of stealth aircraft in the world, proposed a new hybrid between the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning on April 22, 2018, for Japan to purchase, and it could easily outclass the US Air Force.
Japan has, for decades, wanted in on the US Air Force’s F-22, a long-range, high-capacity stealth fighter that perfectly suits its defense needs, except for one problem — the US won’t sell it.
While completing the F-22, the US ruled out its sale to allies as the technology involved in the plane was too advanced for export. But this decision took place 11 years ago in 2007.
Today, the US is in the process of selling Japan the F-35 multi-role strike aircraft, but according to Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, the plane’s design makes it less than ideal for Tokyo.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)
“The F-35 is primarily a strike aircraft, intended to hit well defended targets on the ground, and is limited in air-to-air combat because of its size, its single engine, and way it was designed,” Bronk said.
The F-22 can cruise at 60,000 feet going about 1.5 times the speed of sound without igniting the afterburners, meaning it can maintain its stealth while covering incredible distances in short times. The F-35 is a capable fighter, but can’t touch those numbers.
“Along with a bigger missile load out, it’s a much much more capable for air superiority tasks,” Bronk said of the F-22. “The strike role that Japan really really cares about is not really the one that the F-35 is designed for.”
He added that Japan would love a jet that can fire anti-ship missiles, but that the F-35 is just too small to hold them inside its stealthy weapons bays.
Beast of both worlds
(U.S. Air Force photo)
President Donald Trump has moved to loosen up restrictions on foreign military sales, and could potentially revisit the decade-old ruling on selling the F-22, as the sensitive technology it uses has aged and become less cutting-edge, but that same advancement in technology has likely doomed the F-22’s restart.
Bronk said the costs of restarting F-22 production were “not trivial,” and even if Japan offered to pay, “a lot of the electronic components, computer chips and things, are not built anymore.” The F-22 had a decades-long development that started off with 1980s-era technology.
“If you were going to put the F-22 into production now, it’s hard to justify doing without updating the electronics,” Bronk said. Once the electronics become updated, and take up less space and throw off the balance of the jet, the flight software would need an update. Once the flight software starts getting updated, “it starts to look like a new fighter program,” Bronk said.
This would create a serious headache for the US Air Force
In the end, Lockheed’s proposal looks like an F-22 airframe jammed with F-35 era technology, essentially stripping the best part of each jet and combining them in a plane that would outclass either.
“If it can stomach the costs, then not only would Japan have a fantastic fighter on its hands, but perhaps problematically it would be more capable than anything the US Air Force is flying,” Bronk explained.
In the end, the US Air Force would end up in a very difficult position — having to live with Japan getting a better fighter, or spending money earmarked for F-35s, which the US sees as the future of its force, on another aircraft it didn’t come up with.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Toni Craig, Larisa Roderick and Paul LaRue. These are the names of people who cared enough to preserve the legacy of Veterans interred in unmarked graves by obtaining headstones or markers from VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA).
An unmarked gravesite has no permanent headstone or any way to identify the decedent buried in the grave.
Toni Craig visits her cousin Harry Martin’s grave.
For Craig, a special education world history teacher in Martinsville, Va., her quest was to obtain a marker for her cousin, Pfc. Harry Pemberton Martin, a Marine and Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War. He laid in an unmarked grave for 52-years.
Craig started her research in November 2019 with an obituary that her mother gave her. That search included working the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs in Danville, which allowed her to obtain all the necessary documentation to receive a flat marker. Martin now lays at Meadow Christian Church Cemetery in Martinsville.
“Harry is a hero to my family because he did not have to go to Vietnam. He served his time in the Navy, but decided to join the Marines after,” she said. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but to us his heart was and still is golden.”
LaRue’s students laying a headstone.
This action (of preserving the legacy of Veterans who lay in unmarked gravesites) happens all across the country. A June 2019 story on clickorlando.com shows how concerned resident Larisa Roderick secured 61 headstones for Union Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II Veterans buried at Mt. Peace Cemetery in St. Cloud, Fla.
Retired Ohio high school teacher, Paul LaRue, involved his students to secure and install more than 70 headstones in five cemeteries since 2002. More than half were for African American Civil War Veterans. Those include Beach Grove, the historic African American cemetery, in Cincinnati, for World War I Veterans. The other is Washington City Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio, where African American Civil War Veterans lay.
“This unique preservation project began in our local city cemetery after a student asked, ‘Don’t these men deserve better?'” LaRue said.
The researchers only needed proper documentation to prove a Veteran’s service in order to obtain a headstone or marker through NCA. Each of them worked with local officials, the National Archives and Records Administration, and state and federal Veterans departments.
Requesting a headstone or marker
Anyone can request a burial headstone or marker if the service of the Veteran ended prior to April 6, 1917. Veterans who died prior to November 1, 1990, and whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive a second headstone or marker from NCA. However, a medallion is available to all decedents in this category who served on or after April 6, 1917. The medallion can be affixed to the existing headstone to show the Veteran’s branch of service.
Members from the local and U.S. communities got down and dirty in the mud during the inaugural Samurai Run July 21, 2019 at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan.
The Marine Corps Community Services event was held as a chance for locals and service members to strengthen relationships through friendly competition.
The Samurai Run was a four-mile course complimented by a series of obstacles that winded through the muddy trails of CATC.
“For the past three years, we have done mud runs,” said Bud Wood, the athletic director and Single Marine Program coordinator on Camp Fuji. “We took the mud run concept and we converted it into more of Spartan Race with obstacles, including the U.S. Marine Corps obstacle course.”
According to Wood, approximately 400 people participated in the inaugural Samurai Run.
“It was a great event to allow the local national communities to come onto base.” — Bud Wood, the athletic director and Single Marine Program coordinator on Camp Fuji
“It was designed to bring the Japanese and American cultures together into one community.”
(Photo by Sgt. Timothy Turner)
The run had a variety of competitive and non-comptitive categories for men, women, teams, and children.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Sassman, a military policeman assigned to CATC, Camp Fuji, placed third in the mens competitive race.
“The race is approximately four miles including all the terrain and obstacles,” said Sassman, a native of Sioux Center, Iowa. “We have members of the local communities coming out here to see the base and participate in the runs we do here. We did the mud run back in March and a lot of people showed up, got their shirts and were all motivated to come out here and run another race with us.”
According to Wood, the course was very challenging, but it was also meant to be fun and inviting to everyone.
(Photo by Sgt. Timothy Turner)
“I thought the race was very tough,” said Koji Toriumi, a participant of the Samurai Run and a native of Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. “It felt good running alongside Marines, and my favorite obstacle was the 45-degree ladder on the confidence course.”
In the future, MCCS hopes to hold this event annually.
“I want to thank everyone who came out,” said Wood. “We hope to see even more people next year and we hope this event continues to grow.”
MCCS is a comprehensive set of programs that support and enhance the operational readiness, war fighting capabilities, and life quality of Marines, their families, retirees and civilians.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
Veterans often wonder what to do when they leave the military. Sometimes finding the right job can be tough, but for some, perhaps motor sports may be an option, if not as a career, then as a way to help recover from the invisible wounds of war.
According to Racer.com and USA Today, a number of efforts to encourage veterans to get involved in various types of auto racing have emerged recently. One is MilitaryToMotorsports.com, a venture from Andretti Autosports. The Andrettis are one of the biggest names in the auto-racing world, and this team has won the Indianapolis 500 four times, captured four IndyCar championships, plus two X-Games Gold Medals.
According to the MilitarytoMotorsports.com site, veterans can apply to be anything from a motor transport driver (perfect for folks who drove a HEMTT in their service) to a machinist to hospitality staff to being on a pit crew. In other words, the job you did in the military could have a lot of applications in helping an IndyCar driver win the next Indianapolis 500!
The chairman of Military to Motorsports is Navy veteran David Tilton, whose lengthy career included a tour on the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan (LHA 2) and a tour with the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He retired after a back injury in 2003, and first became involved with Andretti Autosports in 2015.
“I am very excited to be part of the launch of the Military to Motorsports Program with Andretti Autosport,” said Tilton. “This program will give well-deserved military personnel the opportunity to utilize their skills and discipline, gained during their service, as part of one of the most successful teams in motorsports.”
NASCAR is not being left out, as a number of NASCAR drivers and teams have become involved with Hope for the Warriors, a Veterans Service Organization founded in 2006. According to USA Today, the drivers and team invite veterans like ex-Marine Ryan Harshman, a combat-wounded vet, to races.
“NASCAR events can be very organically therapeutic. If you can challenge somebody’s hesitations by putting them in an environment like that where they’re very excited to be there, it helps. They are distracted from the chaos, but the chaos is actually helping to ease the PTSD and the noise issues and so forth,” Hope for the Warriors President Robin Kelleher told USA Today Sports.
Today, Harshman is working at an outdoor store, and remains involved with the charity.
The Trump administration on Aug 6, 2018, announced it would reinstate sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal — and Iran has made no shortage of vitriolic threats about what it may do in response.
Beginning Aug 7, 2018, the US plans to sanction Iran’s central bank, sending a clear message to the US’s European allies: Do business with the US, or do it with Iran, but not both.
The US plans to follow up with another round of sanctions in November targeting Iran’s lifeblood: its oil exports.
“It’s pretty clear the Iranians are suffering a fair degree of anger over the economy,” Dennis Ross, who has worked on Middle East policy in four US administrations, told reporters on a call set up by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iran’s currency, the rial, has tanked this year, losing about half its value against the dollar. “In the past week, the price of toothpaste has risen three times,” Ross said.
Amid the economic struggles, Iran has seen wave after wave of protests from both rich and poor citizens, protests the government has often suppressed violently. Ross said that it was unusual to have bazaar vendors, truckers, and conservative towns protesting and beaten back by riot police and that the recent protests were “noteworthy.”
Ross said, however, that Trump’s election and a mounting anticipation that sanctions would return had some effect on Iran’s economy but were “not the root cause.”
He instead pointed to corruption, talent mismanagement, years of isolation from international business standards, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ massive role in the economy, and a lack of transparency as proving inhospitable to investment.
At the same time, Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions dealt Iran a huge blow, which will significantly hurt its earning potential and liquidity. Ross said that while China may still buy Iranian oil amid the US sanctions, it could ask for a discount; while India may still buy Iranian oil, it may offer to pay only in rupees.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Iran makes big threats and takes little action
Michael Eisenstadt, an expert on Middle East security and defense, told reporters on the Washington Institute’s call that while Iran had talked a big game, it carefully measured its actions to avoid a strong US response.
“Iran faces a dilemma,” Eisenstadt said. “In the past, Iran’s main response was to redouble efforts in the nuclear domain” as a response to US pressure, but Iran has reduced its nuclear infrastructure as part of the nuclear deal with the US and other countries.
Iran has made threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, where about 30% of the world’s oil exports pass through, but Eisenstadt and other experts dismissed this as bluster.Instead, Iran could send missiles to its Houthi allies in Yemen to target oil shipping from US allies, as it already has. Iran could attack US troops in Syria. It could detain US citizens, wage a cyberattack, or harass US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
“Iran, and it’s economy, is going very bad, and fast!” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!”
A summit with Trump would greatly shame the theocratic rulers of Iran, as they frame their government as a revolutionary act opposing US hegemony and cry “death to America.”
But according to Ross, Iran may have another option: Russia.
“I have a suspicion that even if it doesn’t come directly, I can easily see in six months the Iranians turning to the Russians and letting the Russians be their channel,” to negotiate with Trump, Ross said. “Given the Trump-Putin relationship, we can see Russia coming and offering something, opening up a negotiation.”
By dealing through Putin and not Trump, Iran could save face while dealing with Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and its other economic issues.
India successfully tested the Agni 5 missile Jan. 18, moving it closer to joining the small group of countries with access to nuclear-capable intercontinental missiles.
This is India’s first successful test of the Agni 5 at its full range, the Indian Ministry of Defense said in a release. The test also marks a significant step in India’s military development amid tensions with China and Pakistan.
The missile test was conducted on an island off India’s east coast, flying for 19 minutes and covering more than 3,000 miles. It was the fifth such test and the third consecutive one firing the missile from a canister on a road-mobile launcher, the Indian Ministry of Defense said. All five tests have been successful.
The ministry said “all objectives” of the latest test were met and that it “reaffirms the country’s indigenous missile capabilities and further strengthens our credible deterrence.”
The Agni 5 is the most advanced in the Agni series, part of a program that began in the 1980s. It has a range of more than 3,100 miles and puts India among countries like the U.S., China, and Russia that have access to intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missile is also set for incorporation into India’s Strategic Forces Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear-weapons stockpile.
The three-stage missile is 55 feet long and is capable of carrying a payload of more than 1.5 tons, which is enough to carry “fusion-boosted fission warheads with a yield of 200-300 kilotonnes,” according to an editorial by Saurav Jha, the editor-in-chief of the Delhi Defense Review.
Heightened tensions with India’s neighbors
India is currently in a tense period of relations with its western neighbor, Pakistan, with which it has long had a contentious relationship. New Delhi has said it faces a threat from Pakistan’s development of a nuclear missile program of its own.
New Delhi and Beijing went through a protracted standoff over a sliver of land in the eastern Himalayas over the summer — the worst border dispute between the two countries in three decades. The number of face-offs between Indian and Chinese personnel in disputed areas on their shared border increased considerably in 2017.
China has criticized India’s development of the Agni 5 and expressed dismay about India’s growing defense ties with the U.S. and other countries in the region.
India has been boosting its military development over the past few years, largely in response to the growing Chinese presence in the region, which is home to heavily trafficked and strategically valuable shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.
Beijing now has a presence at ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Djibouti, and has a growing relationship with the Maldives. China’s navy, its submarines in particular, is increasingly active in the Indian Ocean, especially around the Malacca Strait, through which the country passes about 80% of its fuel supplies.
With the Agni 5, New Delhi is now able to hit targets in most of China — including major cities on its east coast. The missile’s mobile-deployment capacity also makes it harder to track and boosts India’s second-strike capabilities. Its reentry vehicle may also mitigate ballistic-missile defenses being developed by China.
“If there are hostilities, and if there are contingencies, then India has something which can deter China or at least make China think twice,” Nitin A. Gokhale, an independent national-security analyst in India, told The New York Times.
While some aspects of India’s missile development have faced setbacks in recent weeks, there have been significant advances in its missile technology as well.
In late November, India’s air force said it become the first air force in the world to successfully test an air-launched Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, after firing one of the 5,500-pound, two-stage missiles from a modified Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet at a sea target off India’s east coast.
The successful test in November gave India the ability to launch the missile from sea, land, and air.
The Brahmos, which is based on Russia’s P-800 Oniks sea-skimming cruise missile, was a joint project between New Delhi and Moscow. Russia provided 65% of the missile’s components, while India supplied the majority of the rest.
The Brahmos is reportedly able to carry a 660-pound warhead up to 250 miles, traveling at speeds up to Mach 3. That combination of speed, range, and explosive power makes the missile a threat to large surface ships, like aircraft carriers, as well as to fortified targets on land. Its speed and low altitude may also mean that anti-missile defenses, especially shipboard ones, would have trouble intercepting it. There is also speculation the missile could be modified to carry a nuclear warhead.
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Persian Gulf — The hiss and scream of F/A-18 Super Hornets launching from the flight deck is business as usual on this city at sea, where sorties on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria have been launched a dozen or more times a day since early February.
When aircraft loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and 1,000-pound bombs aren’t being catapulted into flight, training and qualification flights commence.
Constant through the action is a sort of deck ballet of positioning, as the 74 aircraft based on the ship are guided onto elevators for maintenance and storage, or moved to make room for the daily C-2 Greyhound delivery of people and Amazon packages.
The routine of life aboard the carrier is perhaps the most conventional element of the unconventional war against ISIS.
American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, mostly special operations and advisory elements, operate in relative secrecy, with few opportunities for journalists to observe them up close.
On the carrier, by contrast, public affairs officers host three or four media visits per month, boarding them in comparatively luxurious “distinguished visitor” berthing, complete with monogrammed bathrobes, and offering them interviews with pilots and unit commanding officers.
Aboard the carrier, multiple sailors said they are on their second deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve — the coalition anti-ISIS fight — and compared the consistency of operations today favorably to the frenetic nature of the campaign when it first began in 2014.
With OIR about to enter its third year next month, the commander of the Bush carrier strike group said he is seeing progress in the fight.
While many strikes continue to target enemy positions in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, where assaults on ISIS’s urban strongholds continue, the carrier’s fighter pilots are seeing more missions to the south, along the Euphrates River Valley. The strikes follow the path of retreating ISIS leaders, Rear Adm. Ken Whitesell said.
“Their vision of a geographic caliphate is coming to an end,” Whitesell told Military.com. “As they move and that unblinking eye stays on top of them, they will be targeted as they move down the valley.”
The number of fighter sorties launched from the carrier daily ranges from 12 to more than 20, plus several EA-18G Growler electronic warfare sorties, said Capt. Will Pennington, commanding officer of the Bush.
Pilots fly punishing eight-hour missions one to three times a week, in addition to daily training and currency flights. But the mission tempo has stayed largely steady since the carrier deployed, and the air wing has yet to be pushed to its limits, he said.
“We’re not surging to make this happen; this is a comfortable pace. We could up it and still get comfortable,” Pennington said.
The fight is proceeding carefully and deliberately from the air in large part because of the complexity of the urban ground battle. In Iraq, where a little more than half of the air wing’s sorties are tasked, the strike mission was simpler before coalition forces arrived in Mosul, he said.
“There were more targets and less complicated aerials,” Pennington said. “Now that the effort is moving forward and being successful … that operation, both from the ground and the air, needs to be carried out with much more prudence, given civilian entanglement.”
In both Mosul and Raqqa, the ground fights have been slow-moving. Coalition troops began their first assault on Mosul in October, and began a campaign to retake Raqqa the following month. Whitesell pointed optimistically to the words of Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Othman Al-Ghanmi, who predicted earlier this month that the fall of ISIS in Mosul would be complete in just three weeks.
It’s not the first time a top official has predicted victory close at hand. But the changing nature of strike targets also gives Whitesell reason to believe the end is near.
In addition to targets including enemy personnel, vehicles and improvised explosive devices, Whitesell said pilots are being tasked with destroying a key source of the militant group’s economic survival: oil wells.
While previously aircraft would target vehicles used to transport the oil, most of those are gone, thanks to the air mission, he said. “Now we get it before it comes out of the ground.”
Whitesell contrasts today’s operational picture to that of 2014, when the Bush became the first aircraft carrier to launch airstrikes on ISIS.
“ISIS had made the push out of Syria and Raqqa, way down, so they had incredible geography. So this carrier was the first striking on the Iraqi assets to stop ISIS at the gates of Baghdad and start moving them back,” he said. “Fast-forward three years to where we are. We’ve got, essentially, a noose tied around the neck of ISIS.”
On a given day, a pilot might be tasked with engaging a specific target over Iraq or Syria, or with flying to a region and remaining “on call,” to be assigned a future target, sometimes with scant notice, by a controller on the ground.
While pilots’ assignments can change at any time during the mission, they generally know the day’s mission set by the time they’re walking to their aircraft on the flight deck, said Lt. Cmdr. “Butters” Welles, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 37, the “Ragin’ Bulls.” The squadron flies the F/A-18C Hornet.
Multiple pilots who spoke with Military.com asked that their full first and last names not be used, a subtle acknowledgment of online threats ISIS militants have made on various occasions against U.S. troops and their families.
Welles, who is on his fourth combat deployment, said he still feels the power of the moment when dropping ordnance on a ground target.
It’s a sense similar to other high-stress moments, whether it’s landing on the ship at night or doing something that requires intense attention,” he said. “There’s a sense of time compression, where everything sort of slows down, but you feel like it’s still moving very quickly … it’s definitely a very intense moment.”
At that point, a pilot’s day is far from done. Still ahead are a series of tanker refueling operations, a flight back to the ship, and hours of debriefs. The workday of a pilot with a strike mission can easily stretch to 12 hours or more, the work continuing long after exiting the cockpit.
But after a day in the fight, they return to the ship, where four meals are served daily, gyms and movie channels are available for free time, and routine keeps chaos at bay.
And pilots are well aware of the contrast between the reality of the island-like carrier and that of coalition troops in the gritty, drawn-out ground battles.
“It’s a very different perspective and involvement for us to be up and somewhat detached from what’s going on down on the ground,” Welles said. “So I would say it’s a sense of pride, knowing that we contributed in some way to a very difficult effort on the ground. Because once we’re complete, and we either leave to airborne refuel, or need to go home, then the people we’re talking with are still there in the fight.”
Later this month, our nation will mark a full calendar year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of millions of our fellow citizens and people around the world. The U.S. Armed Forces, being a cross-section of America, have not been spared from the effects of the coronavirus. Across the military, COVID-19 has left a deep mark: PCS moves were delayed, school and childcare has been disrupted, promotion ceremonies and weddings have been put off – and, tragically, many lives have been lost.
In addition to the impact of the pandemic, the U.S. has also dealt with domestic unrest, social change, economic struggles not seen in generations, and the start of a new administration. To say that the last 52 weeks have been challenging and historic would be an understatement. However, March 2021 also marks another milestone, and a fresh opportunity to showcase the best of the ideals of selfless service and teamwork that is the foundation of America’s military: the launch of the Army’s Annual Campaign on behalf of Army Emergency Relief (AER).
Most soldiers and their families are familiar with AER, the Army’s own financial assistance organization. Since 1942, AER has been 100% focused on helping soldiers and their families when they face financial challenges. Each year, we support over 40,000 Soldiers with nearly $70 million in grants, zero-interest loans, and educational grants for Army spouses and children. All told, that comes to more than $2 billion in support since our founding, with more than $1 billion of that since 9/11. Chances are, whether you are a single soldier or part of an Army family, you’ve either contacted AER for help yourself or personally know someone that has.
How can AER help? In 2019, we provided $9 million to more than 5,000 soldiers who were impacted by hurricanes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters. Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit our nation hard, we established new relief programs to help Soldiers and their loved ones navigate childcare, remote education, PCS moves, and other critical financial needs caused by the pandemic, including expanded eligibility for U.S. Army Reserve & National Guard Soldiers. Overall, we have more than 30 categories of assistance; whether it’s personal vehicle repair, emergency travel, damage to your house from natural disasters, or funeral expenses caused by the loss of a loved one, we help soldiers deal with life’s unexpected costs. What’s more, all of our financial assistance is provided either as a grant or a zero-interest loan – unlike the payday lenders near Army installations that prey on soldiers, charging up to 36% interest (and sometimes higher) on short-term loans.
Even though our mission supports the global Army team, AER receives no funding from taxpayer dollars. Every dollar we provide to those in need is from donations by soldiers (active duty and retired), the American public, and industry partners. That’s where the Annual Campaign comes in— the main goal of the campaign is to raise awareness across the Army Team of AER’s benefits, while offering soldiers the opportunity to support their fellow brothers and sisters in arms by making a donation.
The many difficulties we’ve faced as a nation over the past year has re-emphasized the importance of supporting those who practice selfless sacrifice on behalf of others. That’s why the theme of this year’s Annual Campaign is “A Hand-Up for Soldiers”. Details on the campaign, which kicked off March 1 and runs through May 15, can be found at https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/campaign. Donations can be made online, through an installation’s AER Officer, or your Unit Campaign Representative.
AER isn’t a giveaway program; it’s a hand-up for soldiers and Army families experiencing temporary financial need. We help soldiers get back on their feet and back in the fight; as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General James C. McConville says, “People First – Winning Matters”. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength! Let’s work together these next two months and make the 2021 Annual Campaign a success.
Retired Lt. Gen Raymond V. Mason is the Director of Army Emergency Relief. The Army’s Annual Campaign runs from March 1st through May 15th across all installations.
Military families are often better positioned to learn the history of our country as they move to new communities with different museums, landmarks, and parks. As parents, we can take advantage of our nomadic lifestyle to expose our children to the complex, beautiful, and ugly stories of our nation. And a diverse bookshelf is a great place to start.
Below are a few books for preschool through high school to add to your collection or library pickup list as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and Black History Month in February. These stories will help kids understand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and impact and the continued struggle for equality for all Americans.
Children’s books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month
There are many children’s books that use the backdrop of Dr. King’s famous speeches. For younger readers “Let the Children March” by Monica Clark-Robinson demonstrates children’s participation in Civil Rights marches. “I Have a Dream” illustrates Dr. King’s famous words for children, with art by Kadir Nelson.
Several stories on award lists inspired by the memory of Dr. King include “Martin’s Big Words”by Doreen Rappaport, which focuses on his speeches; “Martin Rising: Requiem for a King,”poetry by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney for middle schoolers; and for teenagers, “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone, where a modern teenager starts a journal to Dr. King.
Civil Rights History for Young Children
“A Ride to Remember” was written by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan. This book explains segregation and the impact of the Civil Rights movement on children at the time by telling the story of the day Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland became desegregated. Langley was the first Black child allowed to ride the carousel, on the same day as the March on Washington.
“The Undefeated” is the 2020 Caldecott Medal book by prolific author Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson that lovingly demonstrates the endurance and strength of African Americans throughout history and into the future.
“She Was the First” is a new picture book written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Eric Velasquez that tells the story of the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968.
To further celebrate Black women in politics, consider Kamala Harris’ picture book “Superheroes are Everywhere,” illustrated by Mechal Renee Roe.
“Lillian’s Right to Vote,”which tells the story of an elderly African American woman who recalls the history of voting rights through her family’s eyes, is by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award-winner Shane W. Evans.
“The Story of Ruby Bridges,”a picture book by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford, is a must-have for any children’s bookshelf to tell the story of school desegregation, however, for slightly older independent readers (recommended for ages 8-12), Bridges herself wrote an award-winning autobiographical account of her experiences in “Through my Eyes.”
“You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen,” written by award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by her son Jeffrey Boston Weatherford, tells the story of African American pilots during World War II. Weatherford has written many children’s books on African American history.
The Red Summer of 1919 was impacted in large part by returning World War I soldiers. The violence of this time period is important to understanding the continuing fight for equality. While more books for young readers are needed on the subject, “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” is an award-winning young adult book. Teen Vogue also has a series of articles and links to resources looking at these events that can be a starting point for parents to read with their teens.
A few favorites that deal with growing up during the Civil Rights movement are “Brown Girl Dreaming”by must-read children’s author Jacqueline Woodson, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”by Mildred D. Taylor and its sequels, and “The Watsons Go to Birmingham”by Christopher Paul Curtis. Each is a Coretta Scott King and Newberry honoree. The Coretta Scott King Award is given to Black authors and illustrators to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s wife “for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”
On Saturday, December 12, 2020, Santa and his elf could be seen driving around central Oahu waving and handing out candy canes to delighted children waving from their driveways as holiday music rang through the air. But this wasn’t an event sponsored by the city or county, or even a military spouses’ group. It was one couple trying to bring the spirit of Christmas to their community.
“It’s been such a hard year for the kids,” PJ Byers told We Are The Mighty. “We wanted to bring an element of Christmas magic to them.”
When PJ and Jenny Byers realized their son Declan, 3, wasn’t going to be able to see Santa in a traditional way this year, they knew they wouldn’t be the only parents feeling a little “bah humbug.”
“It was actually our neighbor’s son who is battling leukemia that got me thinking about other people’s situations,” Jenny Byers shared. “It got me thinking outside the box of my own life. It reminded me that there were other people facing different scenarios and everyone’s circumstance is different in this pandemic.”
Armed with inspiration, the Byers decided to take matters into their own hands. In early fall, the couple ordered costumes from the internet with the intention to create a magical Santa ‘drive through’ experience.
“When we first tossed around the idea for our neighborhood, we didn’t know what December was going to look like,” PJ, a U.S. Naval officer stationed at Pearl Harbor, said. “The closer it got to the holiday season, we decided we wanted to go ahead with the idea so that no matter what your circumstance was – whether you feel comfortable going to the mall with plexiglass or not – every child in our surrounding community would have the chance to see Santa.”
As the holidays neared, the Byers posted their plan in their Facebook community group to ensure neighbors felt comfortable with them driving around in costume and tossing out candy canes.
“I was shocked by the response,” Jenny said. “So many people were so excited and thankful we were offering that they started offering to help. We were just planning on doing it all ourselves. Everyone started pitching in and we got a speaker from a neighbor down the street. We got a Christmas tree donated to put in the back of the truck and several neighbors donated candy canes for us to toss out to the kids.”
Within the Facebook page, the Byers set a date and time for the Santa spectacular.
“We also posted a route so that people could gauge when we would drive by their house,” Jenny explained. “We tried to hit every street in our neighborhood and we set a specific route so that people didn’t gather. Our goal was to hit every house and not have people group together into a big crowd.”
On the day of the event, the couple festooned their truck, suited up for the big event, and began making their way through the neighborhood.
“The kids were so happy,” Jenny shared, adding that local community members had donated more than 1,000 candy canes. “They were so excited to see Santa. We followed COVID guidelines and all candy canes were pre-wrapped. Santa was wearing gloves and there was no contact. It was so sweet to see so many kids so excited and happy.”
The couple’s son, Declan, waved from a neighbor’s driveway as Santa drove by, none the wiser his dad was the man in red.
The Byers shared that beyond something fun for kids, it was a gratifying opportunity for them to contribute to the community.
“I was honored to do it honestly,” PJ shared. “So much has been taken away from the kids this year, it felt like the least we could do to make the Christmas season feel a little bit more normal for them.”