One of the more constant sources of action for the United States Navy in the 1980s was the Gulf of Sidra.
On three occasions, “freedom of navigation” exercises turned into violent encounters, an operational risk that all such exercises have. The 1989 incident where two F-14 Tomcats from VF-32, based on board the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is very notable – especially since the radio communications and some of the camera footage was released at the time.
In 1981, two Su-22 Fitters had fired on a pair of Tomcats. The F-14s turned around and blasted the Fitters out of the sky. Five years later, the Navy saw several combat engagements with Libyan navy assets and surface-to-air missile sites.
In the 1989 incident, the Tomcats made five turns to try to avoid combat, according to TheAviationist.com. The Floggers insisted, and ultimately, the Tomcat crews didn’t wait for hostile fire.
Like Han Solo at the Mos Eisley cantina, they shot first.
So, here is the full video of the incident – from the time contact was acquired to when the two Floggers went down.
Ah, Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air! Cupid is on the march!
And you have duty. Or are deployed. Or stuck in the barracks. … Whatever.
We all know what that means. While you’re busy mopping floors and standing at parade rest, Joe D./Jodie/Jody is on the prowl, looking for heartsick girlfriends and boyfriends stuck all alone at home. Here’s the date he’s probably suggesting to your significant other right now:
1. He’ll probably give her some nice flowers.
Most likely roses, but it could be something creative like daisies or tulips.
2. Take a ride in your Cadillac.
The wax still looks pretty good, and the shine on the tires hasn’t lost any of the luster. Sorry, man. “Ain’t no use in looking back, Jodie’s got your Cadillac.”
3. Dinner …
Soft light from candles glints off of some fancy silverware as it cuts through delicious Italian food. Filling, but not too heavy.
4. … and a movie.
They’re gonna finish up just in time to catch a movie at the theater. Something funny, and not too racey for a girlfriend hanging out with a guy just as friends. It’s not “50 Shades Darker.” It’s “The Lego Batman Movie.”
5. Take a long walk in the park, on the beach, through the woods, or out behind the barn where no one can see them.
It was an early movie, so the night is still pretty young. And the clear stars make a walk this time of evening just perfect. Of course, she might have to borrow his jacket, to keep the February chill at bay.
6. Play some nice, soft music.
What? Lots of guys keep smooth jazz on their phone. And Jodie just likes to hear this kind of music.
In the dark. In a secluded area. On a walk. With a service member’s significant other.
7. Let’s be honest, Jodie/Jody/Joe D. isn’t doing anything with anyone. But your girlfriend/guyfriend/general’s daughter-friend could use a good Valentine’s Day.
Your significant other is probably sitting at home, still in love with you. But don’t take that for granted. It’s Valentine’s Day for crying out loud.
If you’re stateside and can surprise them, just do everything from this list that Jodie might have done. If you’re deployed, send some nice flowers and a sweet video message.
Both of these things work even if you have to do it on the 13th or 15th.
Come on, give your loved ones some credit. The ladies know better than to give into Jodie’s nonsense. Now, the boys and Jane, on the other hand….
He was asked if the US should reinstate the draft.
Yes, he replied, but not to grow the size of the armed forces.
He argued that since only 1% of Americans serve their country, America lacks in shared experience — there’s almost no common background between the upper class and the middle class, the educated and the uneducated, the rural and the urban.
The solution, then, wouldn’t be mandatory military service, but national service — programs like Teach for America and City Year, but made accessible to a full quarter of a yearly cohort rather than an elite few.
Since that conversation, McChrystal has campaigned for making a “service year” a part of young Americans’ trajectories. The goal is to “create 1 million civilian national service opportunities every year for Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 to get outside their comfort zones while serving side by side with people from different backgrounds.”
In an interview with Business Insider, McChrystal, who has held positions as head of US Joint Special Operations Command and as the top commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, explained his plan for making that happen, and the effects national service could have on American society.
Business Insider: What does the word “citizenship” mean to you, and how does national service inform it?
Gen. Stanley McChrystal: When I think of citizenship, I think of a nation as a covenant. It’s an agreement between a bunch of people to form a compact that does such things as common defense, common welfare, whatnot. The United States is not a place; it’s an idea, and it’s basically a contract between us.
BI: So if a nation is an agreement, then citizenship is putting that agreement into action?
SM: That’s exactly what it is.
BI: What does citizenship have to do with having a common experience?
SM: We’ve become a nation that’s split 50 ways.
There are fewer ties to the community today than when you lived in a small town, and everybody had to get together to raise a barn. You knew your neighbors because you had to. Grandparents tended to live in the same town as parents, and kids grew up there. Nowadays, we don’t live that way.
BI: But service programs today are unreachable for most people, so how can they serve as a common link? Teach for America, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps — these programs have acceptance rates comparable to Ivy League schools. How do you make service more accessible?
SM: What has happened is that many of our service practices have become almost elitist programs. They do it because they can, and also it protects their brand and their reputation so they can survive in tough times. But it’s not solving the problem because most of people who go do those kinds of things, I think they come out better citizens, but it’s too small a number — it’s less than 200,000 kids a year.
BI: There are a ton of social structures at work here. How do you make a change?
SM: We’ve got 4 million young people in every year cohort in America, so we think that in the next 10 years we’ve got to get to about a million kids every year to do a year of national service. That would be 25% of the year group.
Now, I can’t prove this, but our sense is that if we get to 25%, you probably get the critical mass, because what we’re trying to do is get this into the culture of America so that service is voluntary but it’s expected. Meaning if you go to interview for a job, you go to apply to a school, you go to run for congress, people are going to naturally ask, Where did you serve?
BI: OK, so how do you make that happen?
SM: Creating a big government agency isn’t the mechanism to do this.
We’re trying to take existing organizations like Teach for America and expand those. Then Cisco, the corporation, has donated money and helped to develop a digital platform that is going to give us a 21st-century ability to match opportunities and people looking for a service year opportunity.
I think we create a marketplace to do this that obviously starts slowly and then builds up momentum. And then once we get to the point where people really believe that service is not only a good thing to do — in an altruistic sense as citizen — but it also advantages them.
BI: There seems to be a lot of anxiety around doing “a gap year.” Are any programs already in place that take away that anxiety?
SM: There’s a program that Tufts University rolled out that’s called 1+4. And I was up there when they announced it. And what you do is, you apply for Tufts — I think there are 50 slots for the class that came in last September — but you do your first year doing national service, kind of like you’re red-shirted for football, and then you do your four years.
You’re already accepted, so the family doesn’t worry, Is Johnny going to go to college? If you’re on financial aid, Tufts pays for it. They pay for the national service. Tufts believe they get a more mature freshman. We’re pushing this in a lot of universities now because it’s a win-win for a university.
They do get a more mature person, and parents don’t worry about the vagaries of the gap year. There could be a lot of different permutations of that kind of thing, but those are the kinds of things that we see as practical steps.
BI: How will you know when the plan has succeeded?
SM: The key part of the ecosystem is the culture that demands national service. At some point, my goal is to get it so that nobody would run for Congress who hadn’t served, because they think they’d get pummeled for not having done a service year.
Armed Forces Day is a holiday where few can put their finger on its history, but most people agree the armed forces are pretty great and just roll with it. The day was originally called for by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson was trying to finish consolidating the military branches into the newly-formed Department of Defense under the 1947 National Security Act and its 1949 amendment, but the public had seen the branches as separate entities until this point.
So, Johnson asked the branches to stop endorsing days for each force and instead embrace a day to celebrate all branches together. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all switched from their own day to Armed Forces Day. The Marine Corps joined Armed Forces Day but still celebrates its own day on November 11, the birthday of the first United States Marine Corps. Today, the Coast Guard is also celebrated during the festivities but maintains its own day, August 4.
1. 1950: The First Armed Forces Day
Armed Forces Day was established in 1949 and the first celebration was set for May 20, 1950. This photo from the first celebration shows a specially rigged jeep being used for recruitment during a parade.
2. 1951: Presidential review
Parades, along with air shows and displays of military equipment, would continue to be a part of celebrations. In 1951, this photo was taken of soldiers saluting President Harry Truman during a march down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.
3. 1956: Engineers build a castle with portcullis
This exhibit was constructed at Bolling Field — now Bolling Air Force Base — in Washington, D.C. The red castle constructed by the Marines is a symbol of the combat engineers.
4. 1960: Old cavalry and new
At Fort Devens, Massachusetts, the Army displays its most current cavalry with its oldest. Tanks have come a long way since then, but fighting on horseback has come around again.
5. 1961: Touring the “Flying Banana.”
Civilians tour the H-21 cargo helicopter in this photo from 1961 Fort Devens, Massachesetts Armed Forces Day celebrations. Nicknamed “the flying banana” the H-21 began to be phased out the same year this photo was taken. The CH-47 replaced it and is still the Army’s main lift helicopter.
6. 1968: “Frog men” display their skills for Armed Forces Day TV episode
In 1968, “The Mike Douglas Show” did a series of episodes celebrating the military branches. In this photo, an underwater demolition shows how they conduct high-speed pickups to retrieve swimmers from the water. UDTs were the predecessors to the modern Navy SEALs.
7. 1973: American Armed Forces Day in England
America’s Armed Forces Day is celebrated by the armed forces regardless of their geography. In this photo, a child plays in the cockpit of an F-4 fighter during an open house at Bentwaters Air Base, England.
8. 1976: Air assault over the Washington Monument
A medical evacuation team prepares to rappel during a demonstration over the Washington Monument in D.C.
9. 2000: Blue Angels demonstration
Air shows have been a part of Armed Forces Day since the first celebrations in 1950. They’re still a great crowd pleaser and the Navy’s elite Blue Angels always put on a great show. This photo is from an open house at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin was born with amniotic band syndrome, a fetal congenital disorder that affected his left hand in utero. By age four, he was in so much pain he wanted to cut the appendage off himself. He did have the hand amputated – but still grew up doing everything a young boy from Florida would do, including playing football.
But Griffin didn’t just play football, he excelled at it. He and his brother played football together their whole lives, including at the University of Central Florida, where Shaquem was named 2016 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and the 2018 Peach Bowl MVP. The league watched as the talented one-handed linebacker went up for the 2018 NFL Draft – and was picked up in the third round.
One-handed athletes everywhere rejoiced.
It’s not a PR stunt. The one-handed Griffin is a talented back, and his missing hand doesn’t cause him to miss a beat. In the NFL combine, he performed 20 reps on the bench press wearing a prosthesis and ran the fastest 40-yard dash for a linebacker since the NFL started tracking the numbers.
When the Seahawks drafted him, he signed a four-year deal worth .8 million.
The spotlight on Griffin was almost unbearable but, luckily for him, his brother Shaquill is still playing right along with him, playing cornerback for Seattle. While the team itself may not have the record they hoped for, the two brothers are having quite a season themselves, and Shaquem is an inspiration for everyone who might have been told they couldn’t do the same.
The six-foot, 227-pound rookie linebacker is now a shining example for not only children with a similar issue, but anyone missing an appendage or anyone in a circumstance that might otherwise keep them from competing at the highest levels.
The boy in the video is 11-year-old Daniel Carrillo, a California boy who was born without his right hand, a result of the same affliction Shaquem Griffin had when was born. He cried tears of joy as he opened his gift in time for the Seahawks play the 49ers on Dec. 2, 2018. Carillo is a junior Spartan, and wants to play high school football to be a Spartan. He wants to then go on to Michigan State – the Spartans – to play. He has NFL dreams, of first being a player and then a coach. Now he knows it’s possible.
Carillo knows he’s going to the 49ers-Seahawks game. What he doesn’t know is that he’s going to meet Shaquem Griffin – on the field.
Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 13 effectively communicated with air station assets throughout southern California utilizing organic equipment from exercise Northern Lightning at Volk Field Counter Land Training Center, Camp Douglas, Wis., Aug. 16, 2018.
This communication, or “shot” communicating with MCAS Miramar successfully traveled over 1,600 miles crossing the Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon and other large obstacles making this one of the longest shots in MAG-13 history.
“The entire background to completing the shot is the proof of concept that we can send an air trafficking order using high frequency capabilities,” said Stacy Vandiver a MAG-13 field radio operator. “Theoretically this asset would assist us on any type of island hopping campaign we would participate in.”
Communication or “comm” assets are key to any exercise or operation Marines participate in. Without comm, Marines would not be able to function as a full Marine Air Ground Task Force.
Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 13 communicate with Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar utilizing high frequency communication equipment during Exercise Northern Lightning at Volk Field Counterland Training Center, Camp Douglas, Wis. Aug. 16, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. David Bickel)
“This is key in allowing effective communication with the rear,” said Vandiver. “We can instantly let them know what planes flew or didn’t fly, how many targets were destroyed and if there are any casualties.”
In addition to maintaining effective communication, high frequency shots, like the one from Volk Field, are extremely difficult for the enemy to track.
“HF is an extremely reliable source of communication,” said LCpl. Arnold Juarez, a MAG-13 radio operator. “Our other systems can be effected by rain and other elements which will not have an effect on HF.”
Overall, this shot demonstrated that in rain or shine, Marines will still have communication with their home station.
“Internet and other advanced connections are great and very convenient,” said Vandiver. “However, when those fail, we will always have a means of communication to provide command and control points from the rear.”
Featured image: Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 13 work on communications equipment during Exercise Northern Lightning at Volk Field Counterland Training Center, Camp Douglas, Wis. Aug. 16, 2018.
The United States and Israel are putting on a large-scale joint exercise — one with high stakes in the Middle East. Right now, the two countries are rehearsing defense against a ballistic missile attack.
According to a report by the Jewish Press, Juniper Cobra, an exercise held every two years, is underway. This time, the exercise is simulating a massive, two-front attack against Israel, which, historically, has been no stranger to hostile ballistic missiles landing in its territory.
During Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein launched dozens of modified SS-1 “Scud” missiles at Israel. A total of 39 missiles landed on Israeli territory, causing two deaths and substantial property damage. That number would have been higher had the United States not deployed batteries of MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Israel.
The stakes for this exercise are high and have increased as tensions mount over Israeli allegations of Iranian actions in Syria and Lebanon. Iranian leaders have vowed in the past to wipe Israel off the map. An American missile-defense test in Hawaii ended in failure when a RIM-161 Standard SM-3 Block IIA missile missed a target late last month. Let’s hope this exercise proves to be more successful.
Shock troops are designed to lead an attack from the front with the goal of inflicting heavy enemy casualties and severely damaging defenses. When the dynamic of the battlefield changed with the Great War, it brought with it measures to break the stalemate of trench warfare.
With the need to find a way to gain ground during World War I, military leaders around the world were struggling with the new battlefield, not yet experienced to the scale or intensity that was introduced. After analyzing what the combat troops were experiencing, the concept for the shock troop was born.
Here are a few of those who really left their mark in history.
“The Daring Ones” were Italy’s response to a deeply entrenched enemy. Initially made up of volunteers and later by men who were recommended by their superior officers, they were among the bravest, most physically fit, and best hand-to-hand fighters in the Italian army during that time. Needless to say, they were not the type of soldiers you would want to see coming for you. Here’s why:
Most of them didn’t even carry rifles — they considered them to be too bulky to use in the trenches and usually opted to use daggers. What they would do is advance under the cover of an accurate artillery barrage and, once it lifted, they would flood the trenches to stab the enemy in the face. The goal wasn’t just to assault their positions with the goal of gaining ground but to overrun and destroy them.
The job was so dangerous that an Arditi soldier would get paid three times the rate of the average Italian soldier. Which isn’t bad considering they suffered 25-30% casualties in almost every attack. They were so dope their logo was a skull with a dagger clenched between it’s teeth and their motto was, “O la vittoria, o tutti accoppati,” which roughly translates to, “We either win, or we all die.”
Easily the most famous of World War I era shock troops, and for a good reason. The German ‘Sturmbattalions’ were famous for their aggressive fighting style and decentralized command. These units made it easier for the German Army to break through enemy defenses and reap their souls since most forces weren’t prepared for an all-out assault when it hit them.
The use of these shock troops was so impressive and so effective that they were not only used during World War II but they also influenced tactics of other shock troops to include the Austro-Hungarian Jagdkommandos.
Their emphasis on decentralized command allowed junior leaders to make more of their own choices on the battlefield, which is a concept heavily employed and focused on in U.S. Marine Corps infantry units.
Despite Germany’s defeat in the war, it would be ridiculous not to recognize their tactics as well-planned and highly effective.
Adopted by Austria-Hungary from a Russian concept, the Jagdkommandos or, “hunting commandos,” were initially used as scouting units. Developed well before the outbreak of the Great War, Austria-Hungary wasn’t really sure how to employ them until they started getting their asses kicked by the Italians and Russians during the war.
They were under-equipped and under-trained until Russia nearly destroyed the Austro-Hungarian army. But, after the leadership recognized the need to have pipe hitting shock troops, they rose one full battalion and trained an additional 7,700 in close-quarters combat.
After they managed to kick some serious Italian ass, they were able to get their hands on good equipment and weapons which allowed them to succeed in plenty of subsequent battles until they were finally defeated during a summer offensive by the Italian defenses, which had vastly improved through heavy loss.
Following the loss of the war and collapse of the Austria-Hungary empire, the Jagdkommandos disappeared until 1962, when Austria named their Special Forces after them.
U.S. Marine Corps Infantry
Though the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry existed long before the first World War, their aggressive tactics and fighting spirit gained their modern reputation during the war as “shock troops,” as the Germans classified them. In every war prior, the Marines had been notorious for sending souls to the afterlife all across the globe.
The Marine Corps earned its reputation most notably during the battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, when Marines were aggressively taking real estate from German forces, despite the employment of chemical weapons. Germans were terrified when they charged through clouds of mustard gas, describing some as having “glowing red eyes,” and having the appearance of “hounds from hell.”
Marines to this day credit the battle as the suspected origin for their beloved nickname “Devil Dogs” and live up to their notoriously bad ass reputation they earned during the first World War.
For more than 30 years the B-1B Lancer has proven itself as an essential part of America’s long-range strategic bomber force. Capable of carrying the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force, the B-1 can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time.
The Air Force’s newly acquired B-52 Stratofortress hadn’t even taken off for it’s first flight before studies for its replacement began. Research started in the realm of a supersonic bomber resulting in the development of the B-58 Hustler and XB-70 Valkyrie in the late 50s. Although cancelled, a joint NASA-U.S. Air Force flight research program continued to use the XB-70 prototypes, which were capable of reaching Mach 3.0, for research purposes into the late 60s.
During that decade Air Force began to move away from developing high and fast bombers in favor of low-flying aircraft capable of penetrating enemy defenses.
In 1970 Rockwell International was awarded the contract to develop the B-1A, a new bomber capable of high efficiency cruising flight whether at subsonic speeds or at Mach 2.2. To meet all set mission requirements, such as takeoff and landing on runways shorter than those at established large bases, the B-1A was equipped with variable-sweep wings.
The first prototype flight occurred on December 23, 1974, and by the late 70’s four prototypes had been built, however, the program was canceled in 1977 before going into production.
Flight-testing of the prototypes continued through 1981 when, during the Reagan administration, the B-1 program was revived. For the B1-B, the Mach 2.2 number was dropped and the maximum speed limit set to about Mach 1.2 at high altitude due, in part, to changes from a variable air inlet to a fixed inlet. Other major changes included, an additional structure to increase payload to 74,000 pounds, an improved radar and reduction of the radar cross section.
The first production B-1 flew in October 1984, and the first B-1B was delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in June 1985. Initial operational capability was achieved on Oct. 1, 1986. The final B-1B was delivered May 2, 1988.
The B-1B holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class.
The B-1B was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. In 1999, six B-1s were used in Yugoslavia during Operation Allied Force, delivering more than 20 percent of the total ordnance while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties.
(Photo by James Richardson)
During the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40 percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air forces. This included nearly 3,900 JDAMs, or 67 percent of the total. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the aircraft flew less than 1 percent of the combat missions while delivering 43 percent of the JDAMs used. The B-1 continues to be deployed today, flying missions daily in support of continuing operations.
The 9th and 28th Bomb Squadrons, 7th Bomb Wing, and the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas
34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons, 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota
Did you know?
The B-1B is nicknamed “The Bone” due to the phonetic spelling of its model designation B-ONE.
The B-1B has flown 12,000-plus sorties since 2001 in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
With it’s rapid deployment capability and long-range the B-1B can strike targets anywhere in the world from it’s home station.
Primary function: Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber Contractor: Boeing Power plant: Four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines with afterburner Thrust: 30,000-plus pounds each engine Wingspan: 137 feet (41.8 meters) extended forward, 79 feet (24.1 meters) swept aft Length: 146 feet, (44.5 meters) Height: 34 feet (10.4 meters) Payload: 75,000 pounds Internal (34,019 kilograms) Speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1 plus) Ceiling: More than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) Armament: Approximately 75,000 pounds of mixed ordnance: bombs, mines and missiles Crew: Four (aircraft commander, copilot, and two combat systems officers) Unit Cost: $317 million Initial operating capability: October 1986 Inventory: Active Duty, 62 (2 test); Air Force Reserve, 0; Air National Guard, 0
(Graphic by Maureen Stewart)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
With threats of a mustard gas attack on U.S. troops re-emerging in ISIS-infested Iraq, a leading clothing technology company has developed an ingenious way to protect troops from the horrors of chem-bio warfare.
Known more for its waterproof and breathable coating for rainwear and other outdoor equipment, W.L. Gore — the folks who make Gore-Tex — has developed a next-to-skin clothing system that protects against both chemical and biological warfare agents with just a thin layer of its so-called “Chempak” material.
So, say goodbye to that hot, bulky, carbon-impregnated MOPP suit.
“The big thing you think about with chem-bio suits is the thermal burden,” said Gore’s Mike Merrick. “You want to make sure you’re keeping that user as effective as possible which means you have to relieve heat stress and reduce that mobility restriction. That’s how we’ve designed this garment — to address that mobility restriction and range of motion and thermal burden.”
The new Chemical/Biological Protective Clothing System developed by Gore is light, stretchy and thin, so it allows the operator unrestricted movement when things go kinetic. Gore also claims it 20 percent cooler than the current chem-bio suit.
The best part is most observers would have no idea a soldier is wearing it, so for public events where security is worried about a potential terrorist attacks, the crowd won’t freak out seeing troops or police wearing bulky chem-bio space suits.
“The benefits of this is it’s very concealable you could be wearing it under your clothes right now and I’d have no idea,” Merrick said during an interview at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.
“Think of something like the Olympics where you don’t want to alert a stadium full of people that their could be a threat — you don’t want to walk around there in a big chem-bio suit,” he added. “But in the event something happens, you have a backpack, you pull a mask on you put gloves on and you’re good to go.”
Another advantage of the Chempak material, Merrick says, is that it protects against both vapor-based chemical warfare agents as well as liquid-based biological weapons which the current MOPP suit does a poor job repelling.
Gore has also developed a more robust system that includes a one-piece Union-Suit-like undergarment and a thin coverall. The advantage with this option is that it can be doffed and donned over a trooper’s uniform and can be configured for different missions depending on the environment. The inner protective layer can be worn under a coverall that matches the camo pattern of the service or agency, for example, rather than forcing units to buy entire suits in one color or pattern.
“The benefit is that it’s got this removable outer shell. So that’s good for tailorability to the unit,” Merrick said. “If they want to change that outer garment for a jungle uniform or you’re Coast Guard and you’re doing a drug interdiction mission — its’ one chem-bio suit with two different outer garment coveralls, so the logistics burden is reduced and you don’t have to carry two different chem-bio suits.”
American special operations units are already wearing the two-piece chem-bio undergarment on some missions, but Gore is gunning for the Pentagon’s replacement for the dreaded MOPP suit.
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
Devin Mitchell was trying to get into graduate school as a sociology major, and he needed what he called a “high impact device” to get the attention of the admissions board. Since he was also a freelance photographer, he naturally thought of creating a photo essay as the medium for that sort of impact.
The idea is at once simple and complex. Miller takes a picture of a veteran wearing a uniform of his or her choosing while looking into a mirror. The reflection in the mirror is the same vet dressed in civilian clothes that capture what his or her life is like out of the military.
“The use of a mirror seemed an appropriate device for this subject matter,” Mitchell said. “It screams dichotomy, two different people in one body, and sometimes it screams embodiment and identification.”
Mitchell’s process is simple. “I don’t know any of these people,” he said. “My encounter with any one of the subjects are usually no more than 15 minutes total. They reach out to me online. I vet their military status to make sure I’m not meeting with anyone who’s counterfeit. And I show up at their house. I don’t usually ask questions.”
The subjects decide on the composition of the essay. “Every single time so far they have had something ready,” Mitchell said. “I make the photo and I give it to them and I sit back as an audience member and wonder what the photo meant.
“I call it ‘artistic journalism,'” he said. “These are landmark observations of who these people are in this time period.”
The images provide an amazing range of emotions, especially considering they’re all shot in basically the same setting – a bathroom mirror. In one essay a Marine couple is hugging in the mirror while they stand separate in the foreground, the man still in uniform and the woman in civilian clothes holding a sign that says “PTSD – divorcing but united.” In another a soldier is peeling off the blouse to his camouflage while he’s shirtless in the reflection with “Pride” scrawled across his chest in red lipstick.
“If the photos make people squirm in their chair a little bit, then obviously that’s something they needed to be exposed to,” Mitchell said. “As an artist I couldn’t dream of anything better. Enlightenment through art is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Mitchell is firm in the desire not to artificially engineer a reality with the Veterans Vision Project.
“This is not a project to propagandize any sense of nationalism whatsoever,” he said. “I’m very early in the project, and I will document the good, bad, and ugly. People should really expect to see everything the veterans have to say. As an artist I’m not scared of walking on anyone’s eggshells.”
Marine veteran Mike Dowling is one of Mitchell’s subjects.
“I knew some friends who had done it and they vouched for him,” Dowling said. “I liked the pictures he’d done, so when he reached out for me I was up for it. He said, ‘I just need you to have a military uniform that fits you and whatever civilian clothes you want. You pose how you want to pose.’ I had full creative control.”
And how did the result impact Dowling? “I look at my photo I realize how significantly my military service has laid the foundation for who I am today,” he said. “No matter what I wear the military is always going to be part of who I am.”
Mitchell is not a veteran, and he describes his military knowledge as “very distant, far-off media consumption.” “But I’m a student,” he added. “I like to learn.”
After 134 photo essays (and an ultimate goal of 10,000 for the project) Mitchell has learned a lot about the military community.
“There’s just as much fragmentation as there is unity among the military,” Mitchell said. “Just like any community. The military is no different. That’s one myth that I’ve demystified for myself since I started this. Everyone does not identify with everyone else in the military community. They’re still people.”
For more about the Veteran Vision Project, including how to participate in the project, go here.
To contribute to the Veteran Vision Project’s Kickstarter campaign go here.
Often, there comes a point when people decide to give their Facebook friends list an overhaul.
They completely change their social landscape online by avoiding accepting friend requests from certain types of people, and they give their current friends list a good, hard scrub.
Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they’re doing it for security purposes, or because a handful of people’s posts drive them crazy or they want to keep a more professional profile. Military spouses in particular might do so because they want to focus on positive, stress-free relationships – that is, the ones that bring wine, wear sweat pants, and check judgment at the door.
If you’re a military spouse considering an overhaul, these 10 characters are some of the folks who might not make the cut…
1. The Gossip
At first, reading The Gossip’s witty quips about annoying moms at Starbucks or fashion faux pas might be hilarious. Scrolling through The Gossip’s posts could be an easy way to burn an hour outside baseball practice… until you find yourself the subject of one of The Gossip’s posts.
For The Gossip, everything is fair game. When people listen to The Gossip, or “like” or comment on The Gossip’s posts, the rumor mill churns. And every milspouse knows that the rumor mill is pretty damaging – especially if you live on base. So, if you receive a friend request from The Gossip, think twice before clicking “Accept.”
2. The Negative Nancy
Sometimes we might like seeing The Negative Nancy in our feed. If we’re already down, her critical gaze on life’s horizon validates our own low feelings. But this is dangerous – beware! The more you read her negative posts, the more you’ll feel negative, depressed and weary. In fact, research shows that negative thoughts and emotions can reduce your brain’s ability to function effectively and even weaken your immune system.
That is the LAST thing you need when you’re holding down the home front during a deployment or a long TDY! Do yourself a favor: if The Negative Nancy’s posts are breeding the blues in your life, make the call: hit “Unfriend,” lift your chin up, and notice the sun rising on the horizon.
3. The Stranger
The Stranger piques your interest. Coming out of nowhere, The Stranger has something in common with you and might need help. Maybe The Stranger claims to be stationed at the same installation and needs help finding counseling for marital troubles. Since your profile says you work at Family Advocacy, The Stranger thinks you can help…
At this point, revert to every OPSEC (Operational Security) commercial you’ve ever seen and don’t respond (and tighten up your profile privacy). The Stranger is up to nothing but finding out military-related information or stealing money; you don’t want to take part in either one of those nightmares!
And, don’t be so sure that this scenario is far-fetched. A woman in Pensacola impersonated a military wife to trick service members and spouses into giving her money for supposedly sick children. It could happen on Facebook, too, and if it does, tuck your sympathy away and save it for a real friend who truly needs it.
4. The Selfie Addict
The Selfie Addict manages to capture herself (okay, or himself) in the most attractive poses, accentuating her most beautiful features, against the most impressive landscapes. And remarkably, she captures said images ALL. THE. TIME.
Looking through her series of carefully crafted selfies, you might start to believe (erroneously) that her whole life is perfect; worse, you might make comparisons to your own life and decide it’s pretty dull. Research shows that these comparisons can chisel away at your self-esteem and it’s all for nothing! Perfection is an illusion, after all. Hit “Unfriend,” and focus on relationships that are real and meaningful instead.
5. The Soapboxer
The Soapboxer can’t stop ranting. Whether it’s something going on in the local community, the government, the war or the nation, The Soapboxer has an opinion and feels compelled to share the details. What’s worse, if you post a comment that disagrees just a bit, The Soapboxer will drill into it and make you feel like complete mush for sharing your voice. There’s no room for respectful debate here!
Much like Negative Nancy, The Soapboxer has a way of creating unnecessary stress and frustration. If that’s what The Soapboxer is doing in your life, it’s a signal to end your virtual relationship. After all, you’ve got a PCS to plan for, a deployment on the horizon, and a surprise visit from Murphy – there’s no time to waste stressing over The Soapboxer.
6. The Ex
Friending The Ex might be tempting. Perhaps Facebook recommended The Ex in “People You May Know,” so, out of curiosity, you skimmed unsecured photos and posts. And now you’re inclined to send a friend request. We’re all adults, so it couldn’t hurt, right? Wrong!
Distance has a way of magnifying worries. If your service member is deployed or TDY for a long time, he or she doesn’t need the added worry or stress of seeing The Ex’s comments on your posts or photos. Even if you think the connection is totally harmless, think of your service member and nix the virtual friendship.
7. The Acquaintance
It’s become common practice to meet someone briefly at a party or barbeque, only to find a friend request hours later. Regardless of whether or not The Acquaintance knows a friend of yours, pause before accepting the friend request.
Honestly, what do you really know about The Acquaintance? How will a Facebook relationship deepen your relationship? Odds are, it’s only going to invite snooping – snooping from a person you barely know. Would you invite a mere acquaintance to come into your home and dig through your photo albums and drawers containing other personal information while you’re not home? No? Didn’t think so. Friending The Acquaintance on Facebook isn’t much different. So, wait till you meet The Acquaintance a few more times before you are comfortable enough to leave him or her in your “home” unsupervised.
8. The Judge
If there’s one thing military spouses know, it’s that time is important. When our service members are about to deploy, all of our focus is directed at spending meaningful time with them. That usually comes at the expense of time spent with others, and it can mean declining invitations from close friends.
Most friends understand this, but The Judge does not. If you decline an invitation and later post a selfie of your family relaxing at home, The Judge might comment, “Looks like you weren’t so busy after all.” Or, if you opt out of a lunch date so that you can FaceTime with your deployed service member, only to post later that you’re “feeling sad” because you never got to talk to him, The Judge will comment, “You should have just come to lunch!”
Military spouses are under enough pressure to hold down the home front, keep day-to-day operations running smoothly and support our service members who endure high-stakes careers; we don’t need the added stress of feeling the need to please The Judge. Unfriend!
9. The Drama Queen
When you think of The Drama Queen, think of one word: Perception. Virtual relationships with The Drama Queen could reflect poorly on you, too, because her personal drama might end up appearing on your Facebook page. The Drama Queen might comment on your posts with inappropriate gifs or memes, tag you in photos that depict you in an unfavorable light, or write posts on your wall that are better suited for a private message or phone call.
Everyone else can see these posts, and they associate them with you and possibly your service member, as well. If that’s not how you want to be perceived, then keep your Facebook feed Drama Queen-free.
10. The Boss
When you arrive at a new assignment, your service member’s commander and commander’s spouse might offer a genuinely warm welcome. In some situations, their commander and commander’s spouse might welcome you, too.
This is all well and good, and it’s appropriate to accept their welcome kindly, but be sure to respect the professional line that exists between your service member and The Boss… and The Boss’ Boss. Friending The Boss can cross the line of professionalism, inviting The Boss into your personal world and asking if you can enter his or hers. Generally, people need to maintain their personal space, so while it’s perfectly fine to enjoy friendly conversation at unit barbeques, allow everyone some breathing room on Facebook.