Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent another signal that the U.S. is increasingly attentive to the Arctic and looking to catch up with other countries that are active in the region.
Melting ice has raised interest in shipping, mining, energy exploration, and other enterprises in the Arctic — not only among countries that border it, but also in countries farther afield, like China.
The Arctic “is important today,” Tillerson said during an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, on Nov. 28. “It’s going to be increasingly important in the future, particularly as those waterways have opened up.”
“The whole Arctic region — because of what’s happened with the opening of the Arctic passageways from an economic and trade standpoint, but certainly from a national-security standpoint — is vitally important to our interest,” Tillerson said, adding that the U.S. is behind countries in the region that have responded more quickly.
“The Russians made it a strategic priority,” Tillerson said. “Even the Chinese are building icebreaking tankers.”
While China isn’t an Arctic country, the secretary of state said, “they see the value of these passages. So, we’re late to the game.”
Other countries build up in the Arctic
China’s research icebreaker, the Xue Long, made its first voyage through the Northwest Passage in October, and it is now the first Chinese polar-research vessel to navigate all three major Arctic shipping routes. China has three light icebreakers, with another under construction, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
“I think we have one functioning icebreaker today,” Tillerson said. “The Coast Guard’s very proud of it, as crummy as it is.”
At present, the U.S. Coast Guard has three icebreakers, and the National Science Foundation operates another. Only two of those Coast Guard vessels are operational: the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy.
The Polar Star entered service in 1976, and while it was refurbished in 2012, it is beyond its 30-year service life. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said earlier this year that the Polar Star “is literally on life support.”
Russia has more than 40 icebreakers, including four operational heavy ones. Finland has seven, though they’re privately owned medium or light icebreakers. Sweden and Canada each have six, none of which are heavy.
During an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Nov. 29, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael McAllister, commander of the service’s 17th district, outlined a number of challenges facing his command, but he emphasized that the U.S. is on good terms with its neighbors in the Arctic.
Relations with Moscow on issues like waterway management in the Bering Strait — which separates Alaska from Russia — are positive, said McAllister, whose command encompasses more than 3.8 million square miles throughout Alaska and the Arctic.
“Across all these areas — law enforcement, search and rescue, environmental response, and waterways management — we see the relationship with Russia as positive,” he added.
China, too, is seen by the Coast Guard as a “good partner” that cooperates on a number of issues.
“We have great operational-level relationships with the Chinese coast guard,” McAllister told an audience at CSIS. Chinese and U.S. ships do joint patrols and U.S. ships have welcomed aboard Chinese personnel, he said, which allows both countries to extend their presence at sea.
“I don’t think we fear the movement of the Chinese into the Arctic. I think we pay attention to what’s going on,” he said, describing efforts to monitor maritime activity in and around his area of responsibility, as well as the U.S. exclusive economic zone, which extends some 230 miles from U.S. shores.
‘That’s what keeps me up at night’
McAllister pointed to mismatches between his resources and responsibilities as his main causes of worry.
Two of his biggest concerns are responding to oil spills and mass rescues. “The distances are so great, and the difficulty in staging assets is so significant, that that’s what keeps me up at night,” he said.
While he said the Coast Guard was doing well tracking ship movements, other issues, like monitoring ice data and marine wildlife movement, were still challenges.
Even though satellites have made communications with commercial ships easier, McAllister said he still lacked a local network that allowed him to readily contact small vessels. Military and secure communications are also still limited, he said.
Maintaining a sovereign presence also presented an ongoing challenge.
“At any given time, I will only have one or two ships in the Arctic during the open-water seasons, and a few helicopters in addition to that,” he said.
“If you know Alaska, if you know the [exclusive economic zone], it’s just too big an area to try to cover with such a small number of assets.”
But, he said, the replacement of decades-old cutters with new offshore-patrol cutters and national-security cutters, as well as discussions about icebreakers, were both encouraging developments.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard released a joint draft request for proposal in October, looking for the detail, design, and construction of one heavy icebreaker with an option for two more. The two service branches have already set up an integrated program office for the project.
The Coast Guard’s 2018 budget request asked for $19 million toward a new icebreaker it wants to start building in late 2019. The service wants to build at least three heavy icebreakers, which can cost up to $1 billion each (though officials have said they can come in below that price). The first heavy icebreaker is expected to be delivered in 2023.
Some of the money for the icebreaker has been appropriated and “acquisition is already off and running,” McAllister said. “But even with that capability, there’s still a lack of presence there, and that’s something that we, the Coast Guard, aspire to provide more of.”
After blowing a UK-imposed deadline to answer for the attack, which UK experts assess used a Russian-made chemical weapon, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman warned the UK not to threaten nuclear powers.
The UK also possesses nuclear weapons, but Russia has more firepower and newer nuclear systems than any other nation and has frequently taken to threatening its neighbors and bragging about its capability to end life on Earth.
Additionally, Russian state TV broadcaster Kirill Kleimenov went on Russia’s popular Channel One to make veiled threats and insinuations that politically motivated murders in Britain would continue.
“The profession of a traitor is one of the most dangerous in the world,” Kleimenov said. “It’s very rare that those who had chosen it have lived in peace until a ripe old age.”
Outside of military threats, Russia has said it would respond in kind if the UK moves to expel Russian diplomats or scraps the media license for RT, a Russian-funded media organization.
“Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they shut down Russia Today,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in response. International news outlets in Russia already operate under heavy scrutiny and cannot spread their news freely to the Russian people.
If Britain chooses to acknowledge the attack as having been carried out by Russia on its own soil, it can invoke Article 5 within NATO and trigger a response, possibly war, from the 29-member alliance.
But Russia stands accused of killing 15 former spies on UK soil, and experts tell Business Insider it’s unlikely the UK will go to war over the nerve agent attack.
A United States Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a Chinese KJ-200 airborne early warning plane nearly collided over the South China Sea – the first such incident in the presidency of Donald Trump and reminiscent of a similar encounter that occurred in the first months of the George W. Bush administration.
The two planes reportedly came within 1,000 feet of each other. Incidents like this have not been unusual in the region. While not as close as past encounters (some of which had planes come within 50 feet of each other), this is notable because the KJ-200 is based on the Y-8, a Chinese copy of the Russian Antonov An-12 “Cub” transport plane.
Many of the past incidents in recent years involved J-11 Flankers, a Chinese knock-off of the Su-27 Flanker. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E electronic surveillance planes were involved in some of these encounters, which drew sharp protests from the Pentagon. China also carried out the brazen theft of an American unmanned underwater vehicle last December.
Perhaps the most notable incident in the South China Sea was the 2001 EP-3 incident. On April 1, 2001, a Navy EP-3E collided with a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 “Finback” fighter. The EP-3E made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where the 24 crew were detained for ten days before being released.
Such incidents may be more common. FoxNews.com reported that during his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a hard line on Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
After five days, over 70 tested events and hundreds of evaluated standards, the U.S. Army named its top drill sergeant in a ceremony hosted by the Center for Initial Military Training, or CIMT, the lead in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, for all initial entry training.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, representing Fort Jackson, S.C. and the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt Benhur Rodriguez, representing Fort Sill, Okla. and the Fires Center of Excellence, was named runner up to the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year and also received an award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition. In the event the primary selectee is unable to perform his duties, Rodriguez will assume the role.
By design, the competition is one of the most physically demanding and mentally tough challenges any soldier may face in a competition. The Army level event tests and highlights the professionalism and readiness of the U.S. Army by testing the drill sergeants that are responsible for training the total force.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, with camouflage face paint at a Camp Bullis shooting range. Knight is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The annual event was conducted at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, Texas for the first time since the Drill Sergeant of the Year was established 50 years ago.
Not only did the Health Readiness Center of Excellence, based at Fort Sam Houston, have a candidate in the competition, but the support of their staff and soldiers, along with CIMT planners, were crucial to the success of the event.
Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, HRCoE’s Senior Drill Sergeant and Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Hulse were the CoE’s lead planners for the event. They were both honored with an Army Commendation Medal presentation during Aug. 22, 2019’s ceremony. Six other HRCoE soldiers were also recognized for their significant contributions to the planning and execution of the competition.
U.S. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major (right), presents U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy with the Drill Sergeant of the Year award.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Specht, who was recently selected for promotion to Master Sgt. and was himself a Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor in 2018, discussed how HRCoE was honored to conduct the 50th Anniversary of the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition on behalf of CIMT and TRADOC as the newest CoE within the Combined Arms Center and TRADOC.
“Every Drill Sergeant competitor gave 100% and it was inspiring to see their individual resolve and how each rose to the challenge and represented their respective CoEs and the noncommissioned officer corps as a whole,” said Specht. “Command Sergeant Major Mitchell and his staff outlined the expected standards of excellence and vison and allowed us, the mission command, to take ownership and host this historic event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, firing an M9 at the mystery event.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Hickey and the 2017 Platoon Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Bryan Ivery, as the CIMT representatives, conducted two site visits, multiple initial planning reviews, and were on site over a week prior to the event validating test components. Specht continued, “The success of the event is really a demonstration of what cohesive teams can accomplish with 61 dedicated support noncommissioned officers, CIMT and our staff.”
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition was rigorous, highly structured and covered a broad base of subject areas at a relentless pace. The noncommissioned officers were evaluated in marksmanship, unknown distance road marches, individual warrior tasks, collective battle drill tasks, modern Army combatives, written exams, drill and ceremony, leadership, oral boards, and much more for the honor of being recognized as the top drill sergeant in the Army. The competitors, who truly had to be prepared for anything also took the Army Physical Fitness Test that is the current test of record and the new Army Combat Fitness Test that becomes the Army’s physical test of record in October 2020.
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy on a ruck march.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, said each event is designed to stress the candidates and push their limits physically and mentally to determine if the drill sergeant’s performance, abilities or professionalism become degraded.
Mitchell believes the competition is an extreme example of what all drill sergeants face in their daily tasks of training the Army’s newest recruits. He said that though many things in the Army have changed since he was a Drill sergeant from 1995 to 1998, “the soldierization process has not changed in the last 50 years. Drill sergeants are still tasked with turning ordinary citizens into soldiers.”
U.S. Army TRADOC hosts the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) Competition
(Photo by Sean Worrell)
On the first day of competition, Mitchell described the logic of putting these “soldier makers” to such an extreme test to determine the best of the best. “The drill sergeant that we select will be the number one drill sergeant in the Army as well as the TRADOC enterprise,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you are going to be tired from what you do [as a drill sergeant], but we need that individual to still be able to be in front of soldiers and be able to be professional, no matter the conditions.” He explained how drill sergeants across the Army epitomize that type of endurance and professionalism each day.
Knight’s road to victory story makes for a good example. He said, “I started my quest to become the Drill Sergeant of the Year in 2017 when I was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood. I made it to the 2nd quarter Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Competition that year and lost.” Hickey, who helped plan this year’s competition eventually became the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, or MSCoE’s winner that year and subsequently the 2017 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence (right), with Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, receiving the award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When he was transferred to Fort Jackson last year, Knight was, once again, encouraged to pursue the top drill sergeant prize through a competition at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy; he won the Fort Jackson competition earlier this year to allow him to compete and win this week.
“I really appreciate moments like that,” Knight recalled, speaking of his original loss at the MSCoE. “As drill sergeants we are expected to be subject matter experts so we can tend to think we know everything. Having a humbling experience like competing against other highly qualified people who just out performed you, leaves you two options: better yourself or just accept that someone got the better of you.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, going through the low crawl obstacle at Camp Bullis.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition began with 12 of the most proficient, determined and rugged drill sergeants in the Army representing Basic Combat Training, One-Station Unit Training, and Advanced Individual Training. There was one reservist, the rest were active duty noncommissioned officers. They had all won division level competitions at their home stations to earn the right to compete at the Army level.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, runner up at the 2019 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition, instructs Soldiers on the correct method of conducting a drill and ceremony maneuvers.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Officially, the competition lasts four days with most evaluated events conducted in a field environment at Camp Bullis beginning on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The last field event was completed by six o’clock in the morning on Day Four. In actuality, tested events began on Sunday with “Day Zero” elements that included height and weight measurements, written tests and an oral board held at Fort Sam Houston. Board questions, from seven command sergeants major, led by this year’s board president, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, U.S. Army Medical Command Sergeant Major, were exhaustive on a variety of military and U.S. government related questions.
All of the remaining 10 competitors that outlasted the rigors of the week were honored during the recognition ceremony at Fort Sam Houston mere hours after they completed their last event at Camp Bullis: a 12 mile road march.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, firing an M9 at the mystery event. In this lane while firing from the standing, kneeling, and prone positions the competitors first fired the M4 rifle then transitioned to the M4 pistol.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When Knight was asked how he thought he was able to win over so many other highly qualified candidates, he said it came down to who was able to be more resilient, the most well-rounded, and maybe even who wanted it the most. Knight said he spent any small windows of free time during the competition studying and refreshing his memory on a wide range of subjects.
Knight explained, “Some [competitors] would take the opportunity to eat, some would take naps or got on their phones. I just spent a lot of time studying during the downtime to make sure I stayed in the zone; I didn’t want to open the door to distractions or self-doubt.” Though the competitors weren’t aware of what would be required of them at any given time, he said that many of the notes he studied ended up being on test events so that made him even more energized to put his time to good use.
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, on the reverse climb obstacle during the first day of competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
“I kept the junior soldiers, the trainees, in mind at all times,” said Knight. Soldiers in training are often in situations where they don’t exactly know what is going to happen next. “They don’t have the privilege or luxury of just taking a nap or picking up their phone when they want to.” He explained that soldiers are always told to study during any break in training, “During downtime a drill sergeant will always tell a trainee, ‘pull out your smart book’ so I just felt like this was a great opportunity to bring myself back to the basics.”
Knight pointed out that this strategy for success is not a technique he invented for this competition, it is in the Drill Sergeant Creed: “I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task I would not do myself.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence drill instructor, Ft. Benning, Ga., cools himself down after the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
As the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Knight will be reassigned to CIMT and TRADOC; he will report to Fort Eustis, Va. in 60 days. Knight, a 25 Victor, Combat Documentation Production Specialist, “Combat Camera” by trade is used to telling the Army story through photos. For 12 months, his tenure as the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year, he will serve as a sort of ambassador, called upon to be the example of the resilient, professional, and highly proficient drill sergeant that he just proved himself to be.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Hale (left), Foxtrot Company 232nd Medical Battalion range safety officer, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, hands out ammunition for the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
List of 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Nominees in alphabetical order:
Staff Sgt. Mychael R. Begaye, Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga.
Sgt. 1st Class Frank D. Dunbar III, Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Va.
Staff Sgt. Ariel D. Hughes, Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE), Fort Rucker, Ala.
Staff Sgt. Lillian C. Jones, Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Martinez, Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Mubarak, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif.
Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Okla.
Sgt. 1st Class Marianne E. Russell, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, Charlotte, N.C.
Air Force scientists are working to arm the B-52 with defensive laser weapons able to incinerate attacking air-to-air or air-to-ground missile attack.
Offensive and defensive laser weapons for Air Force fighter jets and large cargo aircraft have been in development for several years now. However, the Air Force Research Lab has recently embarked upon a special five-year effort, called the SHIELD program, aimed at creating sufficient on-board power, optics and high-energy lasers able to defend large platforms such as a B-52 bomber.
“You can take out the target if you put the laser on the attacking weapon for a long enough period of time,” Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an exclusive interview.
Possibly using an externally-mounted POD with sufficient transportable electrical power, the AFRL is already working on experimental demonstrator weapons able to bolt-on to an aircraft, Zacharias added.
Given that an external POD would add shapes to the fuselage which would make an aircraft likely to be vulnerable to enemy air defense radar systems, the bolt-on defensive laser would not be expected to work on a stealthy platform, he explained.
However, a heavily armed B-52, as a large 1960s-era target, would perhaps best benefit from an ability to defend itself from the air; such a technology would indeed be relevant and potentially useful to the Air Force, as the service is now immersed in a series of high-tech upgrades for the B-52 so that it can continue to serve for decades to come.
Defending a B-52 could becoming increasing important in years to come if some kind of reconfigured B-52 is used as the Pentagon’s emerging Arsenal Plane or “flying bomb truck.”
Lasers use intense heat and light energy to incinerate targets without causing a large explosion, and they operate at very high speeds, giving them a near instantaneous ability to destroy fast-moving targets and defend against incoming enemy attacks, senior Air Force leaders explained.
Defensive laser weapons could also be used to jam an attacking missile as well, developers explained.
“You may not want to destroy the incoming missile but rather throw the laser off course – spoof it,” Zacharias said.
Also, synchronizing laser weapons with optics technology from a telescope could increase the precision needed to track and destroy fast moving enemy attacks, he said.
Another method of increasing laser fire power is to bind fiber optic cables together to, for example, turn a 1 Kilowatt laser into a 10-Kilowatt weapon.
“Much of the issue with fiber optic lasers is stability and an effort to make lasers larger,” he explained.
Targeting for the laser could also seek to connect phased array radars and lasers on the same wavelength to further synchronize the weapon.
Laser Weapons for Fighter Jets
Aircraft-launched laser weapons from fighter jets could eventually be engineered for a wide range of potential uses, including air-to-air combat, close air support, counter-UAS(drone), counter-boat, ground attack and even missile defense, officials said.
Low cost is another key advantage of laser weapons, as they can prevent the need for high-cost missiles in many combat scenarios.
Air Force Research Laboratory officials have said they plan to have a program of record for air-fired laser weapons in place by 2023.
Ground testing of a laser weapon called the High Energy Laser, or HEL, has taken place in the last few years at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The High Energy Laser test is being conducted by the Air Force Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.
The first airborne tests are slated to take place by 2021, service officials said.
Air Force leaders have said that the service plans to begin firing laser weapons from larger platforms such as C-17s and C-130s until the technological miniaturization efforts can configure the weapon to fire from fighter jets such as an F-15, F-16 or F-35.
Air Combat Command has commissioned the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration which will be focused on developing and integrating a more compact, medium-power laser weapon system onto a fighter-compatible pod for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons, a service statement said.
Air Force Special Operations Command is working with both the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren to examine placing a laser on an AC-130U gunship to provide an offensive capability.
Another advantage of lasers is an ability to use a much more extended magazine for weapons. Instead of flying with six or seven missiles on or in an aircraft, a directed energy weapon system could fire thousands of shots using a single gallon of jet fuel, Air Force experts said.
Overall, officials throughout the Department of Defense are optimistic about beam weapons and, more generally, directed-energy technologies.
Laser weapons could be used for ballistic missile defense as well. Vice Adm. James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, said during the 2017 fiscal year budget discussion that “Laser technology maturation is critical for us.”
And the U.S. Navy also has several developmental programs underway to arm their destroyers and cruisers will possess these systems to help ships fend off drones and missiles.
As technology progresses, particularly in the realm of autonomous systems, many wonder if a laser-drone weapon will soon have the ability to find, acquire, track and destroy and enemy target using sensors, targeting and weapons delivery systems – without needing any human intervention.
While that technology is fast-developing, if not already here, the Pentagon operates under and established autonomous weapons systems doctrine requiring a “man-in-the-loop” when it comes to decisions about the use of lethal force, Zacharias explained.
“There will always be some connection with human operators at one echelon or another. It may be intermittent, but they will always be part of a team. A lot of that builds on years and years of working automation systems, flight management computers, aircraft and so forth,” he said.
Although some missile systems, such as the Tomahawk and SM-6 missiles, have sensor and seeker technologies enabling them to autonomously, or semi-autonomously guide themselves toward targets – they require some kind of human supervision. In addition, these scenarios are very different that the use of a large airborne platform or mobile ground robot to independently destroy targets.
NOW WATCH: AC-130 gunships could be outfitted with laser cannons
After years of trial and error and millions spent on focus groups, the Navy thinks it has a slogan that will resonate with the American public.
At the Dec. 9 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, the service will roll out its new tagline, “Forged by the Sea.”
The tagline has been under development since 2016 by the marketing agency Young Rubicam, which surveyed the Navy’s youngest sailors, as well as veterans and “key influencers” to come up with a message that would capture the essence of the service.
The 17-to-21-year-old focus group, known as Generation Z or Centennials, was a top priority for the Navy in developing its new tagline.
“The Navy is now recruiting young men and women of the Centennial Generation, who have different goals, expectations and information-gathering habits than their Millennial predecessors,” said Rear Adm. Pete Garvin, commander of Navy recruiting command, in a statement.
“As such, the Navy recognized the necessity to develop a new marketing campaign and media strategy that more effectively reach, educate and inspire the best-and-brightest prospective recruits,” he said.
The slogan’s elaborate rollout Saturday will include a one-minute ad spot on CBS during the game that takes viewers on a fast-paced tour of the Navy’s operational capabilities, from a nuclear submarine to a fighter launch from an aircraft carrier and into space, with a shot of an M4-QC Triton surveillance drone.
“From the depths to the stars,” text at the end of the ad flashes. “Forged by the sea.”
The Navy is also launching a number of social media initiatives near game time, including augmented reality filters on the Navy Recruiting Command Facebook page to allow users to play around with the new tagline, and a Facebook Live show hosted by two officers who attended the Naval Academy, according to a news release.
Following the game, according to the release, a camera team will hit the street to interview sailors about the new tagline and then share their reactions on social media.
For the Navy, which abandoned its previous slogan, “A Global Force For Good,” in late 2014 because it was so unpopular, there’s a lot riding on the new tagline.
In May 2015, the service inked a $457.5 million contract with Young Rubicam for Navy recruiting advertising and marketing slogans, to include the new tagline.
According to the release, work on the new campaign began in spring 2016 and involved an aggressive effort to research the emerging Centennial generation. This research initiative involved trips to visit current and former sailors and study of the career goals and mindsets of Centennials, including what they thought of the Navy.
“What we found was that there was nearly 100 percent awareness of the Navy, but zero percent understanding of the Navy’s full mission, reach and influence,” Ken Dowling, head of the Navy Partnership and managing director at Young and Rubicam Memphis, said in a statement.
“Centennials saw the Navy’s purpose as one dimensional and strongly tied to defense and combat,” he said. “The things that set the Navy apart from other branches of the military weren’t well-defined, and there was limited awareness of the wide range of career opportunities the Navy offers.”
The “forged” tagline handily beat out five other slogan options in focus groups, officials said, although the Navy did not publicly release the other slogan candidates. In a statement, Garvin acknowledged the Navy’s struggle to encapsulate its mission and meaning in a pithy phrase.
“Over the years, we have changed our tagline several times to capture everything our great Navy represents in just a few simple words,” he said. “After much research and creative development, we emerged with a deep understanding of our organization’s purpose and potential — all of which tie back to the sea. For more than 200 years, our sailors have been tested and shaped by the sea. Our new tagline perfectly captures the transformative impact the Navy and the sea has on our sailors.”
The previous motto, “A Global Force For Good,” hung around for five years after its 2009 debut, even though it never became popular in the rank and file. Ahead of the 2014 Army-Navy game, Cmdr. Chris Servello, then-spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, told Navy Times the slogan simply didn’t capture all that the Navy stood for, though he nonetheless called the campaign built around the tagline successful.
There was some discussion in 2013 about promoting “Semper Fortis” — always strong or always courageous — as the Navy’s tagline, echoing the Marine Corps‘ “Semper Fidelis” motto and the Coast Guard‘s “Semper Paratus.” However, this effort never gained steam.
The renewed effort to resonate with the youngest recruitable sailors comes as the Navy, like the other services, faces new recruiting challenges. With a stronger economy, fewer young people are seeking out military service, and some service branches are struggling to meet recruiting goals.
In a Monday address at a U.S. Naval Institute event, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said the Marine Corps and the Navy are doing alright in recruiting, but acknowledged that the services might be challenged if the recruiting goal were increased.
“If we had a surge right now, there might be some problems,” he said.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
Once, when the United States went to war, that war was felt by everyone in the country. The wars’ effects seeped into every facet of American life. The primary reason for this was the draft. Selective service meant that anyone in America could be called up to serve and fight a war at any given time. This included movie stars, politicians, and even star athletes — some of whom never made it home.
Sports fans know the stories of baseball players Moe Berg (who served as an OSS agent during WWII) and Ted Williams (who was in the Navy and Marine Corps for WWII and the Korean War). Less well-known are those NFL players who fought for the United States. Football’s popularity only came about relatively recently, whereas baseball has long been “America’s Pastime.”
When Spring Training rolls around, we’ll remember the MLB players we’ve lost but, for now, let’s take some time during the NFL’s Salute to Service Month to remember those players who were also our brothers in the profession of arms. This is a list of those who died in combat; the list of the NFL’s veterans is much, much longer.
Keith Birlem, Washington Redskins (1943)
Birlem became an Army Air Forces officer during World War II after just one season in the league. After a bombing mission over Europe in 1943, the pilot attempted to land his damaged B-17 Bomber in England, but was killed in the resulting crash.
Mike Basca, Philadelphia Eagles (1941)
Basca enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The former Eagle was a tank commander with the 4th Armored Division. He was killed with the rest of his crew after an anti-tank round struck their vehicle in France in 1944.
Alex Ketzko, Detroit Lions (1944)
Ketzko was a son of Michigan, having played football for Michigan State and then later for the Detroit Lions. After the 1943 season, Ketzko enlisted in the U.S. Army. He eventually found himself in France, where he was killed in action in December, 1945, at just 25 years old.
Walter R. “Waddy” Young, Brooklyn Dodgers (1945)
Young was a big-time athlete out of Oklahoma. He started the Sooners off on their way to becoming a powerhouse sports team, bringing them to their first-ever Orange Bowl Game. After playing for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, they were a football team, too), he signed on to fly B-24 Liberators over Europe and B-29 Superfortresses over Japan during World War II. On Jan. 9, 1945, the legendary athlete was killed in a plane crash during a run over Tokyo.
Don Wemple, Brooklyn Dodgers (1944)
Wemple died on an Army Transport plane flying in the China-India-Burma theater of World War II. The onetime Brooklyn Dodger and Army officer was on his way to India in 1944.
Charlie Behan, Detroit Lions (1945)
After one season with the Lions, Behan decided to join the Marine Corps. He was hit in the mouth by shrapnel on Okinawa. Stuffing cotton into the wound to continue the fight, then-Lt. Behan led his troops up Sugar Loaf Hill and was killed guiding his Marines over the top. He was posthumously award the Navy Cross.
Al Blozis, New York Giants (1945)
The All-Pro tackle joined the Army in 1943, despite being much too tall to conform to standards. The 6’6″ literal giant broke the Army’s grenade throwing record before being shipped out to lead a platoon of troops in France in 1944. After two of his men were lost in the Vosges Mountains, he set out to find them by himself and was never heard from again.
Young Bussey, Chicago Bears (1945)
After the 1941 season, Bears QB Young Bussey left the NFL to join the war effort after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The young Bussey was killed during the invasion of the Philippines.
Edwin B. “King Kong” Kahn (1945)
Kahn spent three seasons in the NFL with the Redskins, staying with the team after they moved from Boston to Washington. He signed up for Army service as a First Lieutenant and was wounded in the invasion of Kawajalien. He died of wounds incurred in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines in February, 1945.
Howard “Smiley” Johnson, Green Bay Packers (1945)
Johnson traded his Packers green for Marine Corps greens after two seasons in Green Bay. The Marine officer was killed in action while leading Marines into battle on Iwo Jima.
Jack Lummus, New York Giants (1945)
The Giants’ Jack Lummus played only nine games in his NFL career before enlisting during the 1941 season. He eventually became an officer candidate and began training with the elite Marine Raiders. Lummus was one of the first Marines to land on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, and for two weeks directed artillery fire onto Japanese positions on Mount Suribachi. Lummus was wounded by shrapnel but managed to knock out three Japanese fortifications so his Marines could advance.
Lummus then lost both of his legs to a land mine and died at an aid station. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his outstanding display of battlefield skill and leadership.
Don Steinbrunner, Cleveland Browns (1967)
The Browns’ Offensive Tackle was just one of two NFL players who died during the Vietnam War. He played for Cleveland during the 1953 season where the Browns lost the championship to the Detroit Lions. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Steinbrunner was on a defoliation mission over Vietnam in 1967 when his C-123 Provider was shot down. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Bob Kalsu, Buffalo Bills (1970)
The All-American tackle was drafted in 1968 by the Buffalo Bills but went to the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC scholarship. To fulfill his obligations to the military, the Bills’ rookie of the year entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division, landing in South Vietnam in November of 1969. He was killed in the infamous attack on Fire Support Base Ripcord in 1970, just hours before his wife gave birth to their son back home.
Pat Tillman, Arizona Cardinals (2004)
Like many NFL players who enlisted in a time of national need, Tillman joined the military in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. By June 2002, he was a soldier and on his way to the Army Rangers. He would go on to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan before his death in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
The reverberations surrounding Tillman’s death has been felt by the NFL and its players, the veteran community, nonprofits, and even college football players – to this day – honor Tillman’s spirit and memory.
Tensions between the US and Russia and increasing activity in the Arctic have drawn more attention to the countries’ otherwise quiet boundary in the high north.
The Bering Strait, between Alaska and Russia’s Far East, has long been an area of low tension and cooperation on matters like waterway management and fisheries enforcement. But expectations of increased commercial and military activity in the Arctic have raised the strait’s strategic profile.
“The Northwest Passage and the Northern Passage all link through one strategic waterway in the West, and that’s through the Bering Strait,” retired US Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser said at a Wilson Center event in October, referring to sea routes along the northern coasts of Canada and Russia, respectively.
“The issues that we’re facing and talking about in the GIUK Gap, you need to be very cognizant that they could also appear in the Bering Sea,” added Fraser, who led Alaska Command in the mid-2000s.
Fraser is not alone in that assessment. At a Senate hearing in March, the Navy’s top officer, Adm. Michael Gilday, said he expected the Bering Strait to be “strategically as important as the Strait of Malacca or the Strait of Hormuz.”
The US military has been active in those straits for years, but its activity in and around Alaska is increasing.
“I think we ought to pay a lot of attention to the Aleutians,” Fraser said at the October event. “They provide, really, a string across the approaches into the Bering, and as more and more strategic activity happens … through the northern approaches, the Aleutians are going to be a strategic and key terrain.”
The Air Force and Space Force will be “key contributors” to addressing issues that arise in the region, Fraser said.
Other service branches want to increase their training in Alaska, and lawmakers have pushed for more investment there.
The US Army Corps of Engineers recently approved plans to expand the port of Nome, on Alaska’s Bering coast. That “will not only help from a national-security perspective but … help [local communities] to reduce the cost of living,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said at another event in October.
‘Not so much about signaling’
Russia’s Far East and Arctic regions are sparsely populated, and after the Cold War the military infrastructure there deteriorated, but Moscow is refurbishing those facilities.
“The physical proximity to both Canada and Alaska … makes the Far Eastern flank of the Arctic as … important to the Russians as the European flank, or NATO flank, of the Arctic,” Alexey Muraviev, head of the Department of Social Sciences and Security Studies at Australia’s Curtin University, told Insider this summer.
The work includes expanding and upgrading airfields to handle strategic bombers and support all-weather operations, though Russia is “mindful of China” and concerns it may have about such activity near their shared border, Muraviev said.
Russia has renovated Arctic bases to support maritime operations along the Northern Sea Route and added new radars and other installations to detect an airborne attack. The easternmost Arctic radar facility is on Wrangel Island, just 300 miles from Alaska.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet has received a variety of new ships and has increased its exercises. A major naval drill in August led to close encounters between Russian ships and US fishermen near Alaska.
That was Russia’s first significant exercise in the region in some time, but it wasn’t clear if it was a response to US actions, according to Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, a nonprofit research group.
“A lot of big Russian military exercises, it’s not so much about signaling,” Kofman told Insider. “It’s much more about them actually being able to do it … to mass forces, to exercise farther away from the actual naval bases.”
Kofman was skeptical that the Bering Strait would take on the same strategic significance as the GIUK Gap but said the sea lines of communication that run through it mean it would be important if the US pursues a sea-control strategy in a conflict, particularly one with China, which brands itself a “near-Arctic power” and is increasingly active there.
“China’s quite interested in the Arctic,” Kofman said, “and the United States is always interested not just in Russia but anywhere China gets interested.”
October 2019, US President Donald Trump made the abrupt decision to pull the remaining US troops out of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria.
The move sent the fragmented country into a spiral, disrupting one of its few areas of stability. By withdrawing support from Kurdish forces in the area — which had helped the US combat ISIS — Trump opened them up to an oncoming offensive by Turkey.
Justifying the decision. Trump argued that US forces in the region had already “defeated” ISIS, and that therefore there was no need for them to stay in Syria.
This was, at best, only partly true.
While US-allied forces this year deprived ISIS of the territory it once controlled, the group still has as many as 18,000 fighters quietly stationed across Iraq and Syria, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, Kurdish-led fighters, known as The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had maintained control of tens of thousands of former ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Of those detainees, 11,000 of them are foreign nationals, according to the BBC.
The SDF has said it is holding more than 12,000 men suspected of being ISIS fighters across seven prisons it operates, estimating that more than 4,000 of those prisoners are foreign nationals, the BBC said.
The fate of those prisoners remains uncertain, particularly in the wake of the US pullout.
Turkey has taken over parts of Syria, and with it, ISIS prisoners
On Oct. 22, 2019, Russia and Turkey took advantage of the power vacuum that had been created and signed an agreement to expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory.
As part of the deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards entered the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, pushing Kurdish forces back to 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border.
Turkey says it will use the reclaimed area to create a “buffer zone” along its border and will use the land to resettle more than 1 million Syrian refugees displaced by the war.
But as Turkey gains land in Syria, it has also taken on the task of figuring out what to do with former Islamic State detainees, many of whom are now under its control. Turkey has faced criticism in the past for its porous border, which allowed foreign fighters to enter Syria and join the Islamic State to begin with.
But Turkey doesn’t want to deal with them, and neither does the rest of the world
According to a 2016 report by the World Bank, foreign ISIS fighters have been recruited from “all continents across the globe,” though it named Russia, France, and Germany as the top Western suppliers of ISIS’ foreign workforce.
Data from the Institute for the Study of War also indicated that significant portions of foreign fighters also came from European countries like the UK, Belgium, and France between December 2015 and March 2016.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that about 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters were in Turkish prisons, and warned that Turkey would not become “a hotel” for militants.
On Nov. 11, 2019, Turkey began deporting foreign nationals said to be linked to ISIS back to their home countries.
One of those foreign nationals was from the US, a spokesperson for Turkey’s interior minister said, though according to the BBC the man remained stranded at the Greek border after choosing not to return to the US. On Thursday morning, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said that the man would be brought to the US.
Turkey’s interior minister added the country was planning to deport “several more terrorists back to Germany” this week, and that legal proceedings against two Irish nationals and 11 French citizens captured in Syria were underway. A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that three men, five women and two children were being returned to Germany this week.
But many of those countries have not put a concrete policy in place for what to do with ISIS foreign fighters or their families that remain in displacement camps in Syria, or have refused to allow them to return.
Trump said in his statement in October 2019 that he discussed the issue of repatriating foreign fighters with France, Germany, and other European nations but they “did not want them and refused.”
Foreign nationals abroad are traditionally entitled to consular services abroad, though many European nations have been cautious about offering help to citizens who joined ISIS on national security grounds. Under international law, it is illegal to strip people of their citizenship if it will leave them stateless.
There are concerns that ISIS may take advantage of the uncertainty to regroup
But the UN has stood firm on pushing countries to take responsibility for their citizens.
“It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in June 2019.
“Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards,” she added.
The UK is currently debating what to do about those who left the country to join ISIS. In February 2019, it stripped British-born Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria to become an ISIS bride at the age of 15, of her citizenship, citing national security risks. Begum has appealed the decision, and the UK government is said to be considering options for repatriating British members of ISIS held in prison camps in Syria.
As the West works through the complicated process of absorbing foreign fighters, Islamic State militants in Syria appear to be taking advantage of the chaos.
Last month, the SDF said ISIS fighters committed three suicide bombings on its positions in Raqqa as Kurdish fighters moved from their posts to respond to Turkish assault. And SDF General Mazloum Kobani has warned on Nov. 13, 2019 that the West should “expect” major attacks from Islamic State fighters who may be looking to capitalize on the chaos in order to regroup.
“The danger of the resurgence of ISIS is very big. And it’s a serious danger,” he told Sky News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We are a country divided. As Americans, we seem to have forgotten that we should all play on the same team. Fortunately, we have the United States Air Force to remind us of that.
The newly released video titled Heritage Today: The Same Mission highlights the importance of diversity. One of the more memorable lines states that, “The day you decide to serve isn’t the day you give up who you are, it’s the day you show who you are and we become stronger for having you in our ranks.” From there, they cover the need for diversity in background, beliefs, religion and sexual orientation, and not just tolerance of our transgendered troops, but acceptance.
Human connection and belonging are hallmark traits of happiness and self-worth. By releasing this video, the Air Force is making it clear that they not only welcome diversity – they long for it. Another memorable line states that, “If we can have each other’s backs on the front lines, we need to have each other’s backs when we are home.” You can view all of their videos, here.
The Air Force stood up a special task force on June 9, 2020, to tackle issues including race, ethnic and other demographic disparities. In a memo published by public affairs, Brig. Gen. Troy Dunn stated that, “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working quietly behind the scenes to tackle these issues. Though we have a long road ahead, I’m really proud of the work this team has done. We want our people to know that we’re steadfast in our commitment to building an Air Force culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging.”
This video showcases their promise of a more inclusive and diverse Air Force.
Words empowering the support of individual identities and a remembrance that we all serve the same nation appears to be a pointed attack on the divisiveness currently tearing the country in two. It also hits on the fact that differences actually make you stronger, faster and more powerful. The Air Force video stresses that its diversity is its strength, something that seems to have been forgotten in the midst of the current turmoil.
Another important takeaway is that the video stresses that although they’ve come a long way, making impressive strides – they aren’t there yet and neither are we as a country. But just because we haven’t gotten there, doesn’t mean we stop working toward a more cohesive and better union. This is a point that the Air Force doesn’t shy away from making, an admission that continued work to ensure inclusion and a focus on diversity only grows, never truly stopping improvement.
The takeaway message of the video is simple: we are stronger together because of our differences. As the video ends, it closes by saying that inclusion isn’t the enemy of readiness, division is. This is advice that not only other branches of service need to follow – but the country as a whole.
Earlier this summer, Chinese and Indian border forces fought a shootout in Ladakh, in the Galwan River Valley, along India’s disputed border with China. On Jun. 15, 2020, India’s armed forces managed to push Chinese advances back across the disputed border, but not before both sides took heavy losses for such a skirmish.
The Indian military says it lost 20 soldiers in the fighting, while China won’t admit how many it lost (U.S. intelligence estimates as many as 34). Among those was 23-year-old Gurtej Singh from Punjab.
He had only been in the military for less than two years, according to India’s Femina Magazine – but joining was his lifelong goal. In December 2018, he was able to join the 3 Punjab Ghatak Platoon, Sikh Regiment. And it was 3 Punjab Ghatak Platoon that was called up to aid the Indian Bihar Regiment when it came under heavy fire from the Communist Chinese troops.
Gurtej SIngh was coming to the rescue of his fellow soldiers. And he was about to do some incredible damage.
Once on the scene, Singh was armed only with his issued kirpan knife. Four Chinese soldiers were on him almost instantly, Indian officials told Femina. Two of them tried to pin him down as he swung his knife at the other two. The scuffle soon veered toward a steep cliff face. Singh lost his balance and slipped, throwing all four enemies off the cliff – and falling himself.
He was able to stop his freefall with the help of rocks on the cliff face. Injured in the head and neck, he returned to the scene, rewrapped his turban, and started wrecking the Chinese soldiers with his knife. In a move that would make American Chosin Reservoir veterans proud, Singh stabbed seven more Chinese soldiers one-by-one.
Until he was stabbed from behind, leaving him mortally wounded. Singh would die there, but not before turning around and taking out his own killer first.
Gurtej Singh: 12, Chinese People’s Liberation Army: 1.
Singh’s remains were returned to his family in Punjab and he was laid to rest in the Sikh tradition with full military honors.
Xi Jinping, who was not reached for comment, probably hopes there was only one Gurtej Singh.
Robert O’Neill ate a last meal with his children and then hugged them goodbye — “most likely forever,” he privately thought.
Even his wife didn’t know where he was going.
On May 2, 2011, two helicopters touched down, one crash-landing, under the cover of darkness within an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The 23-strong team entered a house and crept up the stairs.
A SEAL in front of O’Neill went along a hallway to provide cover, he recalled. When O’Neill entered the bedroom, he saw a man — bearded, tall, and gaunt — standing there.
“I knew it was him immediately,” he said. “He was taller than I imagined.”
O’Neill, a senior chief petty officer in the US Navy SEALs, aimed his rifle and fired twice, he said, hitting the 6-foot-5 figure in the head both times. Osama Bin Laden collapsed. O’Neill shot him again.
Despite his training, which taught him to immediately start gathering intel, O’Neill said he was momentarily dazed by the magnitude of what he had just done.
On July 26, the retired SEAL, in the midst of a lecture series to publicize his memoir, “The Operator,” will come to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda to speak about his life and how his experiences can translate to the lives of others.
And, for the first time ever, the gear he wore the night he hunted down bin Laden — boots, helmet, bullet-proof vest, all in desert-camouflage — is on public display, until the end of July.
Navy SEALs in desert camouflage. (U.S. Navy photo)
“This will probably be our biggest event of the year,” said Joe Lopez, spokesman for the non-profit Nixon Foundation.
How did the Nixon pull off the coup before any other museum?
“They asked,” O’Neill, 41, said this week. “They asked, and I said, ‘Why not?'”
Hours after the raid, when then-President Barack Obama announced from the White House that Special Forces had killed bin Laden and that “his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity,” Americans erupted in celebration.
The details of the mission were classified. Retaliation, if members of SEAL Team 6 became known, was possible. Secrecy was paramount.
The initial excitement he felt over firing the kill shots, he said, eventually waned as his name spread through the military community and Washington, D.C.
“The secret was poorly kept,” O’Neill said. “And my name got leaked.”
So in November 2014, O’Neill fully came out and said he indeed was the shooter.
Some fellow SEALs were irked at O’Neill’s position under the spotlight. Several, anonymously, have accused him of breaking the military code by seeking glory or even lying about being the one who killed bin Laden.
The US government won’t confirm the shooter’s identity.
“I don’t really care,” O’Neill said. “I was with the team. The tactics got me to the spot. I just fired the shots. There’s no doubt it was me.”
“The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior” came out in April. The book, O’Neill said, is about success — how “a guy from Butte, Montana, who didn’t know how to swim, became a Navy SEAL.”
And how that guy, who had never envisioned a career in the military, spent 16 years in uniform because of a breakup with a girlfriend.
“I wanted to leave town so I signed up for the Navy,” he said. “That’s part of the book. Don’t just sit there and sulk. Do something.”
O’Neill went on 400-plus missions, including the 2009 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, and the 2005 mission to save fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Those rescues were turned into Tom Hanks’ film, “Captain Phillips,” and Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s “Lone Survivor.”
“When I discuss my missions,” the former special operator said about his appearances, “I tell them why we were good at the missions, how we worked as a team, and how and why we developed these traits.”
O’Neill, a Virginia native, has yet to visit the Nixon Library. But when approached, he quickly agreed.
“This is huge for us,” Lopez said. “We also thought it would be cool to have something he wore that night on display.”
Officials thought a boot would be good. Or maybe a glove. Perhaps, if lucky, his helmet.
Minus a T-shirt donated to New York City’s 9/11 Memorial Museum, the Nixon got to borrow everything.
“My uniform was at my dad’s house,” he said. “So I had it shipped there.”
O’Neill’s gear is mounted on a mannequin inside a glass case, flanked by American flags with a video nearby explaining his non-profit, Your Grateful Nation, which helps veterans, particularly those from the Special Forces, prepare for second careers.
The case is next to the front entrance in the lobby, opposite a wall-length portrait of the 37th president.
“He’s a hero,” said retired Air Force Maj. Terry Scheschy, of Riverside County, who fought in the Vietnam War and, last week, visited the Nixon Library. “To me, this provides a lot of value to the museum.”
Betty Kuo, 42, of Manhattan Beach, came to the Nixon with her family, including her two young children and their cousins. As she was buying tickets, the children saw the SEAL uniform and sprinted toward it.
Kuo joined them.
“It’s good to teach them that we’re safe, but we can’t take that for granted,” she said. “The military keeps us safe.”
Going into the mission, O’Neill certainly didn’t feel safe himself — he had doubts that his team would escape without harm.
“I thought the mission was one-way,” he said. “That’s why everyone was so excited after the mission. We all got out.”