This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Keeping the troops well fed is a big part of how the military works. Navy veteran and pop-up chef August Dannehl knows this better than most. In the WATM series “Thank You For Your Service” August cooks a four-course meal for his fellow vets, and each course is inspired by a veteran’s story from his or her time in uniform.


When he came home from Afghanistan, Max’s mom prepared the classic Nicaraguan Carne Asada dish with fried plantains. It was a symbol of prosperity and transition into good times from his childhood. When he was young, his mother was a new immigrant to the U.S. and as a single mother, it was sometimes hard for her to put food the table. This dish always served as an embodiment of her love and stayed with Max from his home to overseas.

Short Rib Carne Asada w/ Bacon Jam, Apricot Mojo and Platanos

Inspired by Max’s Mother’s Nicaraguan Carne Asada

Ingredients

Carne

8 beef short ribs

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

6 thin slices bacon, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, diced

2 jalapeno, finely minced

1 medium onion, diced

Splash of red wine

4 cups Cola

4 cups beef broth (low sodium)

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

 

Mojo

1 cup olive oil

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tbs apricot jam

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

8 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 1/2 teaspoons ground

cumin

 

Platano

2 Green Plantains

Corn Oil for Frying

 

Also need 

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Prepare

Season short rib liberally with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and bacon in heavy, oven-proof pan on medium heat. Once bacon starts rendering fat into the pan, add carrots, garlic, onion and jalapeño. Sweat for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Sear short ribs in pan, working in batches to not crowd pan. If pan starts to look dry, add olive oil. Once all sides of every short rib are browned, deglaze pan with red wine and add cola. Let simmer for 10 minutes on stove to reduce.

Meanwhile, prepare the mojo by adding all ingredients but the olive oil in a blender. Slowly increase blend speed to reach about 4 out of 10. Slowly add olive oil through the top until the sauce becomes the consistency of smooth salsa.

Once cola is reduced by half add beef broth, thyme, rosemary and place entire pan (with top) into a 325° oven and braise for 4 hours. Remove short ribs and add flour to braising components to make jam. Stir ingredients for 4-5 minutes or until ingredients bind together.

Prepare platanos by slicing plantain, frying in 350° oil until light brown, smashing with side of a knife and then frying again until crispy (about 2 mins).

Grill short rib for 2-3 mins just to add final touch of smoke and fire to the meat. Then plate by adding platano and mojo to plate topped with meat and bacon jam.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 of the most annoying misconceptions about Marine boot camp

If you’ve learned everything you know about Marine Corps boot camp from watching films like Full Metal Jacket or Jarhead, then you’ve got a skewed idea of what goes down. In fact, before we even hop into the list of misconceptions, let’s squash one here and now: your senior drill instructor does not train you the whole time. If anything, he or she is more like a ghost, only appearing when it’s time to pass out mail or if your platoon really f*cks up.

Sincerely, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a boot is telling people tales of your training. Why? If you’re telling someone who hasn’t experienced boot camp for themselves, you’ll have to constantly stop and break down all of their existing misconceptions. If you’re telling someone who has gone through it, then they don’t want to hear a bunch of crap they’ve already heard from every boot before you.

So, to save you some time, my young boot, go ahead and share this article with your friends before you regale them with tales of your triumph over boot camp. These preconceived notions are all wrong:


This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
They’re usually pretty cool. Just don’t piss them off. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Dana Beesley)

Your drill instructor trains you to shoot

Drill instructors have a role during your basic rifle training, but you get most of your training from a primary marksmanship instructor. Being a PMI is the only other way to be able to wear a campaign hat, the infamous “Smokey Bear” as some refer to it. Your drill instructor takes you to class and you’re trained by someone with a more even temper.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
You do learn tactics at combat training, however. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Shane Manson)

You learn infantry tactics

This one’s easy — you don’t. Not extensively, anyways. Not to a degree where you could be dropped off on a battlefield the day of graduation and expect to survive, at least.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Usually the morning. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Vivien Alstad)

All you do is PT

There’s a lot of physical training done during Marine boot camp, like, a lot. But it’s not the only thing you do. If you’re a total sh*t bag and no one likes you, yeah, that’s all you’ll do because you’re going to live in the freaking sand pit. Generally, though, PT only accounts for a portion of your day.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Don’t piss them off when you get these moments.(Photo by Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)

Your drill instructors never stop being mean

At first, yeah. Every time you see a Marine in a campaign cover it sends a chill down your spine and you die a little bit on the inside, but after a while, your drill instructors will treat you just a little bit better. You may even have some cool sit-downs where one lectures about their personal experiences as a teaching tool.

But, if you take that kindness for weakness — you’ll pay.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
It’s not all about crawling under barbed wire. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by WO1 Bobby Yarbrough)

Marine Corps boot camp is extremely difficult

While some believe it’s the most difficult of all the branches, that’s irrelevant. The truth is that Marine Corps boot camp — or any other basic training — isn’t as hard as you’ll make it out to be in your mind.

If you can adapt, you can survive. That’s essentially what you learn in boot camp, because that’s what it means to be a Marine.


-Feature image: USMC photo by LCpl Jose Gonzalez

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s ‘Mother of All Bombs’ is a pretty sweet ripoff

China’s got a new bomb, and it’s a really big one.

A major Chinese defense industry corporation has, according to Chinese media, developed a deadly new weapon for China’s bombers.

Referred to it as the “Chinese version of the ‘Mother of All Bombs,'” this massive aerial bomb is reportedly China’s largest non-nuclear bomb, the Global Times explained Jan. 3, 2019, citing a report from the state-run Xinhua News Agency.


The weapon, said to weigh several tons, was developed by China North Industries Group Corporation Limited. A recent promotional video showed the weapon in action. The video, which was apparently released at the end of December 2018, marked the first public display of this particular weapon.

Carried by the Chinese Xi’an H-6K bombers, which is a version of the older Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 bombers, the weapon almost completely fills the bomb bay, which would make it roughly five to six meters in length.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

The US military’s GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), the “Mother of All Bombs.”

Chinese military analysts and observers argue that China’s large bomb could eliminate fortified targets, clear out landing areas, and terrify enemy combatants.

Indeed, massive airdropped bombs with tremendous destructive power play an undeniable role in psychological warfare, and not just through seismic shock. During the Gulf War, two US MC-130E Combat Talons dropped a pair of BLU-82 Daisy Cutters, the largest conventional bombs in the US arsenal at that time. A British SAS commando about one hundred miles away reportedly radioed to headquarters, “Sir! The blokes have just nuked Kuwait!”

The next day, a US aircraft dropped leaflets that read: “You have just experienced the most powerful conventional bomb dropped in the war … You will be bombed again soon … You cannot hide. Flee and live, or stay and die.”

In 2018, while waging war against militants in Afghanistan, the US military dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon, more commonly known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” on the Islamic State.

Although China is using the same nickname for its bomb, the Chinese weapon is smaller and lighter than its American counterpart. Chinese media speculated that the size restrictions may have been intentional, ensuring the weapon could be dropped from a bomber.

The 11-ton US bomb is delivered by a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

How the F-35B can defend ships from cruise missiles

A Marine Corps F-35B used its on-board sensors to function for the first time as a broad-area aerial relay node in an integrated fire-control weapons system designed to identify, track and destroy approaching enemy cruise missiles from distances beyond-the-horizon, service officials announced.


A Navy “desert ship” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. designed to replicate maritime conditions, used ship-based radar to connect the F-35B sensors to detect enemy missiles at long ranges and fire an SM-6 interceptor to destroy the approaching threat.

Also read: This is how the F-35 is being tested against Russian and Chinese air defenses

The emerging fire-control system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, was deployed last year on a Navy cruiser serving as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf, Navy officials told Scout Warrior, last year.

NIFC-CA has previously operated using an E2-D Hawkeye surveillance plane as an aerial sensor node; the use of an F-35B improves the sensor technology, reach, processing speed and air maneuverability of the system; the test also assessed the ability of the system to identify and destroy air-to-air and air-to-surface targets.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
An F-35 Lightning II flies over the stealth guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) as the ship transits the Chesapeake Bay on Oct. 17, 2016. USS Zumwalt, the Navy’s newest and most technologically advanced surface ship. | U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe

“This test was a great opportunity to assess the Navy’s ability to take unrelated technologies and successfully close the fire control loop as well as merge anti-surface and anti-air weapons into a single kill web that shares common sensors, links and weapons,” Anant Patel, major program manager for future combat systems in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, said in a written statement.

The test was a collaborative effort across the Navy and Marine Corps, White Sands Missile Range and industry partners leveraging a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System

“This test represents the start of our exploration into the interoperability of the F-35B with other naval assets,” said Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, VMX-1 F-35B detachment officer in charge.

A multi-target ability requires some adjustments to fire-control technology, sensors and dual-missile firings; the SM-6 is somewhat unique in its ability to fire multiple weapons in rapid succession. An SM-6 is engineered with an “active seeker,” meaning it can send an electromagnetic targeting “ping” forward from the missile itself – decreasing reliance on a ship-based illuminator and improving the ability to fire multiple interceptor missiles simultaneously.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
The F-35B conducts a vertical landing on the USS Wasp. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Seaman Natasha R. Chalk

Unlike an SM-3 which can be used for “terminal phase” ballistic missile defense at much farther ranges, the SM-6 can launch nearer-in offensive and defensive attacks against closer threats such as approaching enemy anti-ship cruise missiles. With an aerial sensor networked into the radar and fire control technology such as an E2-D Hawkeye surveillance plane, the system can track approaching enemy cruise missile attacks much farther away. This provide a unique, surface-warfare closer-in defensive and offensive weapons technology to complement longer range ship-based ballistic missile defense technologies.

Once operational, this expanded intercept ability will better defend surface ships operating in the proximity or range of enemy missiles by giving integrating an ability to destroy multiple-approaching attacks at one time.

“NIFC-CA presents the ability to extend the range of your missile and extend the reach of your sensors by netting different sensors of different platforms — both sea-based and air-based together into one fire control system,” Capt. Mark Vandroff, DDG 51 program manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

NIFC-CA Upgrade

NIFC-CA is part of an overall integrated air and missile defense high-tech upgrade now being installed and tested on existing and new DDG 51 ships called Aegis Baseline 9, Vandroff said.

The system hinges upon an upgraded ship-based radar and computer system referred to as Aegis Radar –- designed to provide defense against long-range incoming ballistic missiles from space as well as nearer-in threats such as anti-ship cruise missiles, he explained.

“Integrated air and missile defense provides the ability to defend against ballistic missiles in space while at the same time defending against air threats to naval and joint forces close to the sea,” he said.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer launches a Tomahawk missile. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman

The NIFC-CA system successfully intercepted a missile target from beyond the horizon during testing last year aboard a Navy destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones. The NIFC-CA technology can, in concept, be used for both defensive and offensive operations, Navy officials have said. Having this capability could impact discussion about a Pentagon term referred to as Anti-Acces/Area-Denial, wherein potential adversaries could use long-range weapons to threaten the U.S. military and prevent its ships from operating in certain areas — such as closer to the coastline. Having NIFC-CA could enable surface ships, for example, to operate more successfully closer to the shore of potential enemy coastines without being deterred by the threat of long-range missiles. In particular, NIFC-CA is the kind of technology which, in tandem with other sensors and ship-based weapons, could enable a larger carrier to defend against the much-discussed Chinese DF-21D “carrier-killer” missile. The emerging DF-21D is reportedly able to strike targets as far as 900 nautical miles off shore.

Defensive applications of NIFC-CA would involve detecting and knocking down an approaching enemy anti-ship missile, whereas offensive uses might include efforts to detect and strike high-value targets from farther distances than previous technologies could.  The possibility for offensive use parallels with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy, wherein surface ships are increasingly being outfitted with new or upgraded weapons.

The new strategy hinges upon the realization that the U.S. Navy no longer enjoys the unchallenged maritime dominance it had during the post-Cold War years.

During the years following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. Navy shifted its focus from possibly waging blue-water combat against a near-peer rival to focusing on things such as counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and Visit, Board Search and Seizure, or VBSS, techniques.

More recently, the Navy is again shifting its focus toward near-peer adversaries and seeking to arm its fleet of destroyers, cruisers and Littoral Combat Ships with upgraded or new weapons designed to increase its offensive fire power.

The current upgrades to the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers can be seen as a part of this broader strategic equation.

The first new DDG 51 to receive Baseline 9 technology, the USS John Finn or DDG 113, recently went through what’s called “light off” combat testing in preparation for operational use and deployment.

At the same time, the very first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Arleigh Burke or DDG 51, is now being retrofitted with these technological upgrades, as well, Vandroff explained.

“This same capability is being back-fitted onto earlier ships that were built with the core Aegis capability. This involves an extensive upgrade to combat systems with new equipment being delivered. New consoles, new computers, new cabling, new data distribution are being back-fitted onto DDG 51 at the same time it is being installed and outfitted on DDG 113,” Vandroff said.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katrina Parker

There are seven Flight IIA DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers currently under construction. DDG 113, DDG 114, DDG 117 and DDG 119 are underway at a Huntington Ingalls Industries shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi and DDG 115, DDG 116 and DDG 118 are being built at a Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine.

Existing destroyers the new USS John Finn and all follow-on destroyers will receive the Aegis Baseline 9 upgrade, which includes NIFC-CA and other enabling technologies.  For example, Baseline 9 contains an upgraded computer system with common software components and processors, service officials said.

In addition, some future Arleigh Burke-class destroyers such as DDG 116 and follow-on ships will receive new electronic warfare technologies and a data multiplexing system which, among other things, controls a ship’s engines and air compressors, Vandroff said.

The Navy’s current plan is to build 11 Flight IIA destroyers and then shift toward building new, Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with a new, massively more powerful radar system, he added.

Vandroff said the new radar, called the SPY-6, is 35-times more powerful than existing ship-based radar.

Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers are slated to be operational by 2023, Vandroff said.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Blind Army vet inspires as Summer Sports ambassador

“It was a long walk into darkness … “

That’s how Chuck Miller describes his maddening descent into blindness — something he refused to accept as his world slipped away, little by little.

The Army veteran, who gets care at the Gainesville VA Medical Center, is the first blind veteran sailor certified by the American Sailing Association. He’s also an ambassador at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, where he connects with others to help them adjust to different disabilities.

The clinic brings blind, amputee and paralyzed veterans, and those living with post-traumatic stress, to San Diego, Calif., Sept. 15 to 20, for adaptive surfing, sailing, cycling and kayaking.


“One of the most difficult things about being disabled is acceptance. That to me is one of the biggest struggles veterans have…”

Miller stops and cries for a moment.

“You know, something significant changes in their lives and they try to ignore it. That’s what I did. I was a proud soldier. Being a soldier was everything to me.”

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Chuck Miller, a totally blind Army Veteran, has been an ambassador at the Summer Sports Clinic the last three years.

Going blind

Miller, a single dad with full custody of his son, was first diagnosed with spots on his retina in 1984.

“They just said, ‘You have something wrong with your eyes. They weren’t sure,” he said.

In 1990, his doctor diagnosed him with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare, genetic disorder that breaks down cells and creates scar tissue on the retinas.

“The retinas become so damaged, they’re basically dead,” Miller said. “The only problem I was having was night vision problems and some depth perception. It was difficult to accept. It went on for another 15 years and wasn’t at the point I couldn’t function. I was still driving, still doing normal work. It didn’t register at the time. I just thought, ‘Well, I got an eye problem.'”

By 2005, a doctor leveled with him. “You need to quit driving. You’re going to kill somebody if you don’t.”

“I still didn’t listen until I T-boned somebody in my car,” Miller said.

By 2009, he was blind, only seeing light but nothing else.

“I remember when I realized I was going blind, how terrified I was,” he said. “Just like every veteran, I went through a dark period. I drank, I did drugs, I wanted to kill myself. Thought I’m not worthy as a father, which is one of the most important things in my life. I literally pushed every single person away from me. I lost every friend I had as a sighted person.”

Fighting rehabilitation

Miller’s turning point came when he went to the Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Birmingham VA Medical Center.

“Don’t leave,” he told his friend who drove him there. “I’m not staying. I’m going back home. It’s not for me.”

His friend left anyway.

“That’s where you have to learn to be that disability,” he said. “You have to face it. That’s when you have to say, ‘Damn, I’m blind,’ or, “Damn, I’m this,’ or whatever,” Miller said.

He fought against instructors and struggled to learn skills needed to live in his sightless world. Instructors paired him with a roommate who was blinded at 18 in Vietnam, in hopes he could learn to accept it.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Chuck Miller chats with James Byrne, the deputy secretary of VA, while sailing with him at the Summer Sports Clinic.

“I was pretty angry,” Miller said. “The first couple of days, he’d lay in his bed, and he’d pray out loud to God, thanking him for his day, thanking God for being blind, and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? How could you be so thankful for being disabled?'”

“Man, this is a gift, you just don’t know it yet,” his roommate said. “I get to see things different. I get to see how people are on the inside.”

Miller remembers one day in class, trying in frustration to put together a leather belt kit. The next day, his instructor gave him glasses that blocked out light.

“And I put that thing together in less than an hour,” he said. “I started to see through my fingers.”

Miller gave in, and his world without sight came into focus.

“They start taking me places. Up and down stairs, escalators, crossing four-lane roads. Before that, I wouldn’t go out without holding onto anybody. I learned braille. Found out I’m a natural. I’m sick, I actually took algebra in braille.”

Summer Sports Clinic

He put on a brave face at his first Summer Sports Clinic in 2015.

“I was talking all kinds of junk, but inside I was afraid,” he said. “It’s easy to picture doing this stuff in your mind, but doing it is scary. My first day was surfing, and I was pretty scared to go out there. I don’t know where the beach is at, I can’t see the water. At the end of the day, I was the last one out. I start thinking, ‘This is pretty freaking cool!’

“I had never sailed before in my life. You’re overwhelmed in that first year because there’s so much to take in, but from there I did a five-day sailing clinic in St. Petersburg, Florida, and they put me on a boat with a paraplegic in a wheelchair and a coach. And I’m thinking, ‘We’re screwed.’ But it’s all about exposure.”

Miller fell in love with sailing so much he got his American Sailing Certification with a score of 95 out of 100. He sails with a sighted coach, but does the work himself — untying ropes, hoisting the mast, trimming the sail to catch the wind, and steering.

“When I’m on the water,” he said, “I feel the wind blowing, the birds, the sounds of the ocean, the sun on my face. I enjoy it in a way that a sighted person can’t experience.”

Cory Kapes, who runs Warrior Sail at the clinic, said Miller sets the example. Kapes even let him steer the boat as he came into shore one day, where other boats were only 20 feet away.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Chuck Miller talks to a class of new sailing participants at this year’s Summer Sports Clinic.

“If these people knew I was blind, they’d have a heart attack,” Miller said.

“Just keep smiling and waving,” Kapes said with a laugh.

“It just shows you the impact this clinic can have,” Kapes said. “He never sailed a boat before he came here. He brought it home. That’s what we want other vets to do — bring it home, go kayaking, be committed, make it part of your active lifestyle.”

Ambassador

For the last three years as an ambassador, Miller traveled from Florida to San Diego by himself. When needed, he has a special pair of glasses with a built-in camera that connects him to a live agent to help him navigate. But more often than not, he uses his blind guiding cane.

Most veterans find Miller by his bright pink, volunteer T-shirt, cutting up and telling jokes.

“Hey nice to see you! Well, not really, but you get the idea … ” he tells one veteran.

“I’m Blind Chuck! Would it help if I take off my glasses?” he tells another. “Look, I take off my glasses, I don’t look blind. I put the glasses on, blind! I can look at you, but you know I can’t see you, right?”

He took the deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs on the water, making jokes and cutting up about everyone’s military branch while sailing.

Fellow veteran Michelle Marie Smith, who gets her care at the Sacramento VA, said listening to Miller at the sailing class was a highlight.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “It definitely puts everything in perspective. If I had any doubt, I don’t after listening to him.”

Miller said that’s what it’s all about.

“What I’ve learned from this clinic here – and this is important for veterans to understand – not only can you do things as a disabled person, get to know these volunteers, therapists and team leaders. The only thing they care about is teaching you how to do these sports. They want you to succeed and you just have to trust them.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US expects to withdraw more troops from Afghanistan

The U.S. military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan by more than 1,000 soldiers, a U.S. general told Reuters on Feb.15, 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Congress in February 2019 he intended to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan as negotiators make progress in talks with Taliban insurgents.

However, U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said the decision to reduce some of the 14,000 American forces in Afghanistan was not linked to those negotiations.


Instead, he said it was part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, Army General Scott Miller, who took over in September 2018, to make better use of U.S. resources.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

United States President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“This is something that he started as he got into the position here and was looking at how we [can] be as efficient and as effective as we can be on the ground,” Votel told Reuters during a trip to Oman.

Asked whether Miller would likely cut more than 1,000 troops from Afghanistan under the efficiency drive, Votel said: “He probably will.”

The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

The United States has been attempting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with officials in Kabul.

The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul.

The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Inside the strange mystery of the Havana Embassy attacks

It was a cool night for Havana, with the temperature falling into the mid-70s, and the diplomat and his family were feeling very good about their assignment to Cuba. They were still settling into their new home, a comfortable, Spanish-style house in the lush enclave that had been called “el Country Club” before wealthy families abandoned it in the early years of the revolution. “We were just thrilled to be there,” the diplomat recalled. “The music, the rum, the cigars, the people — and a very important moment for diplomacy.”


Eight months earlier, in March 2016, President Barack Obama had swept into town to commemorate the two countries’ historic rapprochement, vowing to bury “the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” Now, weeks after the election of Donald Trump, that entente was suddenly doubtful. Fidel Castro had just died, opening a new chapter in the Cuban saga. The diplomat could hardly have imagined a more fascinating time to arrive.

As the sun slid into the Florida Straits on that late-November evening, the diplomat folded back the living room doors that opened onto the family’s new tropical garden. The warm night air poured in, along with an almost overpowering din. “It was annoying to the point where you had to go in the house and close all the windows and doors and turn up the TV,” he recalled. “But I never particularly worried about it. I figured, ‘I’m in a strange country, and the insects here make loud noises.'”

A few nights later, the diplomat and his wife invited over the family of another American embassy official who lived next door. Around dusk, as they chatted on the patio, the same deafening sound rose from their yard again.

“I’m pretty sure those are cicadas,” the first diplomat said.

“Those are not cicadas,” his neighbor insisted. “Cicadas don’t sound like that. It’s too mechanical-sounding.”

The colleague had been hearing the same noises at home, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch. After he complained to the embassy housing office, a couple of Cuban maintenance workers were dispatched to look around. They checked for electrical problems and scanned the yard for strange insects, but they left without finding anything out of place. In February, the nightly racket finally began to fade. Then it went away altogether.

It was not until a Friday in late March that the diplomat realized he might be facing something more dangerous than bugs. At work that day, an embassy colleague with whom he was friendly took him aside and said he was leaving Cuba right away. A fit-looking man in his thirties, the colleague said he had just been in Miami, where medical specialists found he had a series of problems including a serious hearing loss. In late December, he said, he had been struck by a strange, disturbing phenomenon — a powerful beam of high-pitched sound that seemed to be pointed right at him. The following Monday, the diplomat’s friend played him a recording of the noise: It sounded a lot like what the diplomat had heard in his backyard.

The diplomat, who agreed to discuss his experience on the condition he not be named, said neither he nor his wife had felt any signs of illness or injury. But within days, they, too, would be on their way to Miami to be examined by medical specialists. Along with 22 other Americans and eight Canadians, they would be diagnosed with a wide array of concussion-like symptoms, ranging from headaches and nausea to hearing loss. They would also find themselves caught up in an extraordinary international dispute, one that the Trump administration would use to sharply reverse the course of U.S. relations with Cuba.

Even in a realm where secrets abound, the Havana incidents are a remarkable mystery. After nearly a year of investigation that has drawn on intelligence, defense and technology expertise from across the U.S. government, the FBI has been unable to determine who might have attacked the diplomats or how. Nor has the bureau ruled out the possibility that at least some of the Americans weren’t attacked at all. Officials who have been briefed on the inquiry described it as having made strikingly little progress in answering the basic questions of the case, with frustrated FBI agents reporting that they are running out of rocks to overturn.

Further reading: The ‘sonic attacks’ on US diplomats in Cuba baffle doctors

Those frustrations have roiled the U.S. national-security community, putting the FBI increasingly at odds with the CIA over the case. In early January, after more than eight months of analysis, the bureau ruled out its initial hypothesis that the Americans were targeted with some type of sonic device. That left the FBI without a weapon, a perpetrator or a motive, and still struggling to understand how the diplomats could have been hurt or fallen ill. Intelligence officials, for their part, have continued to emphasize a pattern they see as anything but coincidental: The first four Americans to report being struck by the phenomenon — including the fit-looking man in his 30s — were all CIA officers working under diplomatic cover, as were two others affected later on. The CIA and other agencies involved in the investigation also have yet to concur with the FBI’s conclusion about sonic technology.

More broadly, the Cuba problem has raised questions within the national security community about how the Trump administration is using intelligence information to guide its foreign policy. At a time when the White House has vowed to act more forcefully against North Korea, Iran and other threats, some officials see the Cuba problem as yet another lesson in the dangers of using intelligence selectively to advance policy goals. “Trump came in opposing better relations with Cuba,” said one national security official who, like others, would discuss the case only on the condition he not be named. “The administration got out in front of the evidence and intelligence.”

A ProPublica investigation of the case, based on interviews with more than three dozen U.S. and foreign officials and an examination of confidential government documents, represents the first detailed public account of how the Cuba incidents unfolded. Although the State Department has generally emphasized similarities in the medical files of the 24 affected Americans, officials and documents consulted for this story indicated that the nature and seriousness of the patients’ symptoms varied rather widely. The experiences that precipitated their illnesses were also quite different, officials said, and the experiences and symptoms of the eight Canadians differed from those of the Americans.

Many U.S. officials who have dealt closely with the problem — including several who asserted that it has been distorted for political purposes — said they remain convinced that at least some of the Americans were deliberately targeted by a sophisticated enemy. Medical specialists who reviewed the patients’ files last summer concluded that while their symptoms could have many causes, they were “most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source,” the State Department medical director, Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, said. “No cause has been ruled out,” he added. “But the findings suggest this was not an episode of mass hysteria.”

Yet it appears that secrecy, psychology and politics may all have played some part in how the phenomenon spread through the staffs of the two Havana embassies. Administration officials have been reluctant to discuss psychological factors in the case, in part because they fear offending or antagonizing the stricken diplomats (many of whom already feel badly treated by the State Department leadership). But as the mystery has deepened, U.S. investigators have begun to look more closely at the insular, high-pressure world of the Havana embassy, and they have found a picture that is far more complex than the rhetoric and headlines have suggested.

Despite the many unanswered questions, Trump administration officials have repeatedly blamed Raúl Castro’s government for failing to protect the diplomats, if not actually attacking them. Early last fall, the State Department withdrew more than half of the diplomatic staff assigned to Havana, while ordering a proportional number of Cubans to leave Washington. The department also warned U.S. citizens they could be “at risk” of attack if they visit the island. “I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government, can bring this to an end,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said January 2018.

What the Diplomats Heard

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Such assertions have outraged the Cuban leadership. Since early last year, U.S. officials said, Castro and his senior aides have insisted they had nothing to do with the incidents and would help in any way they could to investigate and stop them. The FBI team has found no evidence of Cuban complicity in the incidents, officials said, and has privately emphasized the government’s cooperation with its investigators. Tillerson’s statements notwithstanding, some State Department officials have also told members of Congress privately that they have assessed the Cubans’ denials of involvement to be credible, officials said. “They believe the Cuban government wants better relations with the United States,” one Senate aide said.

The other obvious suspect has been Russia, which intelligence analysts have seen as having both a possible motive and the possible means to carry out such attacks. The Putin government has harassed U.S. diplomats routinely in Moscow and sometimes abroad; during the Obama administration, it appeared determined to disrupt American foreign policy around the world. Russia also has a capacity to engineer sophisticated new weapons and a longstanding security alliance with Cuba. But investigators have not found even significant circumstantial evidence of a Russian hand in the incidents, officials said, and some analysts doubt Russia would imperil its relationship with Cuba by so brazenly undermining one of its key foreign policy goals.

While the mystery continues, U.S. policy toward Cuba hangs in the balance. With Castro scheduled to step down from the presidency in April, Washington is represented in Havana by only a skeleton staff at a potentially critical moment of transition. American travel to and business with the island have fallen sharply in recent months, and the processing of visas for Cubans wanting to emigrate to the United States has plunged, calling into question the fulfillment of a longstanding migration agreement between the two countries. The Trump administration may also have limited its options: On March 4, the State Department will face a deadline to either send its diplomats back to Havana or make permanent staff reductions. But the Secretary of State, who reportedly made the decision to pull out the diplomats, has shown no signs of changing his position.

“We don’t know how to protect people from this, so why would I do that?” Tillerson told the Associated Press when asked about returning diplomats to Cuba. “I will push back on anybody who wants to force me to do that until I’m convinced that I’m not putting people in harm’s way.”

In the crossfire of accusations, ordinary Cubans might be forgiven for wondering if they have been transported back in time. As the country prepares to be led for the first time in almost 60 years by someone not named Castro, a tectonic shift that could profoundly affect how it is governed, cold war rhetoric has again filled the air. The next-generation Communist leader who is expected to succeed Raúl Castro, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, 56, is among those who have warned of yet another imperialist plot against Havana. They are “incredible fairy tales without any evidence,” he said of the Trump administration’s claims, “with the perverse intention of discrediting Cuba’s impeccable conduct.”

Related: The US is now claiming some of its spies were attacked in Cuba

The first two incidents occurred around Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, which coincided with the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 25. During the nine days of official mourning that followed, neither American official told the embassy’s leadership what they had experienced. But both men, intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, would later say they heard sharp, disorienting sounds in their homes at night. At least one of them would later tell investigators the noise had seemed oddly focused, officials said. Moving out of the way or into another room, it seemed almost to disappear.

If the stories sounded like science fiction, the CIA’s Havana station and the embassy leadership suspected something more mundane. Since the United States and Cuba restored limited diplomatic relations in 1977, reopening their embassies as “interests sections” in each other’s capitals, the Cubans kept a constant, often aggressive watch over American diplomats in Havana. Diplomats might come home to find a window opened, or a television set turned on (often to government news), or their belongings slightly but obviously rearranged. Some part of the game — including more provocative actions like smearing dog feces on the handles of diplomats’ car doors — was considered almost routine. There was also some noted reciprocity from the American agents who trailed Cuban diplomats around Washington.

During periods of particular tension with Washington, the Cubans sometimes went further. In the early and mid-1990s, American diplomats who met with Cuban dissidents or otherwise annoyed the government occasionally returned from meetings to find their car tires punctured. In the mid-2000s, as the Bush administration openly pursued efforts to subvert the Castro regime, Cuban harassment of the 51 American diplomats then stationed on the island ranged from delays in the release of food shipments to “the poisoning of family pets,” the State Department’s inspector general wrote in a 2007 report.

The man who headed the American diplomatic mission in late 2016, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, knew that history of harassment well, officials said. A measured, laconic career diplomat with an air of hardened patience, DeLaurentis had taken over as the chargé d’affaires in the summer of 2014, bringing more Cuban experience than perhaps any other senior official in the U.S. government. He had done previous tours in Havana as both a consular officer and a political officer, with a stint in between managing Cuban affairs on the National Security Council staff. After Obama announced a plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014, he nominated DeLaurentis to be Washington’s first ambassador to Havana since 1961, when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations. (Although his confirmation was blocked by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who argued that Cuba should demonstrate greater respect for human rights before the post was filled, DeLaurentis remained as the chargé d’affaires.)

Obama’s visit in March 2016 had left Cuban leaders ambivalent about the hand of friendship he extended: Fidel Castro, ailing and almost 90, stirred from his retirement to attack the American president’s “syrupy words,” and what he saw as an insidious plea for Cubans to forget the Americans’ dark history with the island. At a Communist Party congress that April, Raúl Castro and others peppered their rhetoric with references to “the enemy” to the north. Diplomats also noted some palpable discomfort among senior Cuban officials with the burst of capitalist bling that marked the easing of U.S. commercial restrictions — a Chanel fashion show, a free Rolling Stones concert, the brief takeover of Havana streets to film scenes for a new “Fast and Furious” movie.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) shakes hands with former US President Barack Obama, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the White House.)

But in the last months of 2016, official Cuban hostility toward the American diplomats in Havana was hovering somewhere near a 50-year low. No serious harassment had been reported for at least a few years, officials said. Most close analysts of Cuba believed the ruling party had forged a solid consensus for ending hostilities with the U.S. Fidel Castro’s last, angry diatribe notwithstanding, U.S. officials told ProPublica that he had been consulted on the rapprochement and given his approval.

While Cuban officials were notably slow to move forward with many of the proposed American business deals that poured in, they did plod ahead with work on bilateral agreements on law-enforcement cooperation, environmental protection, direct mail service and other matters. “Of course, there is a range of preferences within the regime on the speed and depth of reform,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former senior CIA analyst who handled Cuba issues on both the National Security Council staff and the National Intelligence Council. “But the debate is about the pace; there is no alternative to the Raúl strategy.”

The Cubans’ attention became more focused after the Nov. 8 presidential vote, American officials said. Although Trump had vowed during his campaign to renegotiate Obama’s “very weak agreement” with Havana, the Castro government had seemed to discount the possibility that he could be elected. Once Trump was elected — and with Obama administration officials urging the Cubans to consolidate improvements in the relationship — the Cuban government hurried to conclude work on pending agreements before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

It was during that same period between the election and the inauguration that the first U.S. intelligence officers were struck by what they described as strange noises. The initial three victims lived in the upscale neighborhoods of Havana’s western suburbs. Fidel Castro kept a home in one of those neighborhoods, Cubanacán, as do Vice President Díaz-Canel and other members of the island’s most-privileged elite. The elegant old mansions and tropical-suburban homes of the enclave are also favored by senior foreign diplomats and business executives. There is relatively little car or pedestrian traffic, and a considerable presence of private security guards as well as the Cuban police.

More reading: The mystery behind potential sonic weapons in Cuba is getting weirder

Although the first two officers would later report having first heard strange sounds in their homes back in late November, it was not until the end of December that the first victim sought help at the small medical clinic inside the embassy. That officer — the fit younger man in his 30s — came with a more serious complaint: He had developed headaches, hearing problems and a sharp pain in one ear, especially, following a strange experience in which something like a beam of sound seemed to have been directed at his home.

The younger man’s trauma was reported to DeLaurentis and the embassy’s diplomatic security chief, Anthony Spotti, on Dec. 30, State Department officials said, and followed by word that the two other CIA officers had experienced something similar about a month before. But inside the modernist glass-and-concrete chancery building that rises up along Havana’s iconic seawall, the Malecón, both the intelligence officials and senior diplomats guessed that the noises were “just another form of harassment” by the Cuban government, one official said. They also seemed carefully targeted to CIA officers working under diplomatic cover. If members of Cuba’s state-security apparatus did not know the men were intelligence officers, they would probably have suspected them anyway, the Americans believed.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
The US flag flaps in the stiff breeze off the Florida Straits at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, on March 22, 2016. (Photo from US State Department.)

The incidents were discussed discreetly among members of the embassy’s “country team,” the group of roughly 15 senior diplomats that would often meet daily to discuss significant issues. But, because of counterintelligence concerns, they were kept secret from most of the other American personnel — about 32 other diplomats and eight Marine guards — a decision that was later criticized by some of those who became sick. “We have security officers at every embassy and they give us constant updates,” one diplomat said. “Somebody gets pick-pocketed, somebody got their car broken into … And then somebody got attacked by this mystery weapon and they didn’t tell us?”

By mid-January, after the other two intelligence officers also sought medical attention at the embassy, the matter began to take on a more ominous cast, several officials said. Around the time that the first intelligence officers were sent to the U.S. for treatment on Feb. 6, the wife of another embassy staffer, who lived near the Havana coastline in the neighborhood of Flores, reported hearing similar, disturbing sounds, two officials familiar with her account said. The woman then looked outside and saw a van speeding away. The vehicle had apparently come from the same end of the street on which there was a house that was thought by U.S. officials to be used by the Cuban Interior Ministry. The officials acknowledged that the report was vague and uncertain. Yet they said it also constituted one of the more significant pieces of circumstantial information they had about the incidents.

In Havana, officials said, senior members of the embassy staff argued to their counterparts in Washington that they should formally protest the incidents to the Cuban government. Given the uncertainties, others thought they should try to gather more information before lodging such a complaint. Although it was a matter of concern at both the State Department and the CIA, it is unclear whether it was raised to the National Security Council staff before the decision to protest was made (one former senior official said it was not). Nor, officials said, was Secretary of State Tillerson informed of the situation until days after the department’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Francisco Palmieri, finally called in the Cuban ambassador in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, to present a diplomatic note of protest on Feb. 17.

The Cuban government responded promptly. A few days later, officials said, DeLaurentis was called to a meeting with Josefina Vidal, the senior diplomat who had led the Cuban team that negotiated the normalization of relations with the U.S. (DeLaurentis declined to comment, referring questions about the Havana incidents to the State Department.) Vidal was joined by other officials from the Interior Ministry, which controls the country’s foreign-intelligence and internal-security apparatus. The Cuban security officials questioned DeLaurentis about the incidents, what the diplomats had experienced, what symptoms they had suffered and what other circumstances might shed light on the episode, officials said.

On Feb. 23, less than a week after the U.S. démarche to the Cuban government, DeLaurentis accompanied two visiting U.S. senators, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to see President Raúl Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. During the conversation, officials said, Castro mentioned that he had something to discuss with the chargé, and when the meeting concluded, he asked DeLaurentis to stay behind. During what officials described as a fairly brief but substantive conversation, Castro made it clear that he was well aware of the incidents and understood that the Americans saw them as a serious problem. His response, one State Department official said, was “We should work together to try to solve it.”

Read more: More US diplomats are allegedly being attacked by these weird weapons in Cuba

The Americans’ meetings with Cuban diplomatic and security officials continued. The Cubans said they would bolster security around the homes of American diplomats, adding police patrols and installing closed-circuit television cameras in some areas. In a more unusual step, the Cubans also allowed a team of FBI investigators to come to Havana to investigate for themselves, building on improvements in the law-enforcement relationship that were formalized with a bilateral agreement in late 2016. (An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau would not comment on details of the investigation.)

From the start, U.S. officials were themselves reluctant to share information with Havana about the incidents. The Cubans asked to interview the Americans identified as victims; the State Department refused. The Cubans asked for detailed medical information about their injuries; the State Department demurred, citing privacy concerns. “You could not rule out” the Cuban government’s possible involvement in the incidents, one department official said. “When you are dealing with a possible perpetrator, one is careful.”

While the first embassy staff members were sent to be evaluated by specialists at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, officials in Washington also began to look more widely at what might be causing their symptoms. Initially, U.S. intelligence officials hypothesized that either the Cuban government or some other foreign regime — possibly with Cuban participation — had created a new kind of Long-range Acoustic Device, or L-Rad, enabling them to somehow focus and direct powerful sonic waves of the sort that are used by police agencies to disperse crowds, or by cargo ships to drive away pirates.

But the physics were puzzling to experts inside and outside of government. The incidents had mostly taken place at night, inside victims’ homes. Whatever sonic or directed-energy weapon was used seemed to have penetrated walls and windows. Yet others living in the immediate vicinity apparently heard nothing out of the ordinary. With known L-Rad technology, sound waves generally radiate out from the device. No one seemed to understand how it could be focused in an almost laser-like fashion and still penetrate hard surfaces.

After a lull of several weeks, the incidents began again — and there were more of them. One woman was struck in her apartment. Other diplomats were hit in their homes in the western suburbs. The differing circumstances only complicated the picture, but the effects of the phenomenon became clearer: The first patients examined in the U.S. were all found to have concrete medical symptoms, and in the case of the younger man, they were fairly serious.

On Friday, March 24, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his backyard around Thanksgiving encountered the younger man at work and heard about his frightening diagnosis in Miami. Doctors said the man had serious damage to the small bones inside one of his ears, among other issues, and would need to wear a hearing aid. The next Monday, he played the diplomat a recording of the noise with which he had been targeted. The diplomat was stunned: It sounded much like the noises that he and his family had heard from their garden for several months.

A day later, the diplomat went to see DeLaurentis in the spacious, fifth floor ambassadorial suite that looks out over the Malecón, officials familiar with the episode said. The diplomat explained that he, too, had been exposed to strange sounds that seemed similar to what the younger man had experienced. DeLaurentis said he and others who knew about the incidents believed they were confined to a “small universe of people” whom the Cubans probably suspected of doing intelligence work, whether they were CIA officers or not. The diplomat wasn’t reassured, and he suggested that others would not be, either. “You need to call a meeting,” the diplomat told DeLaurentis. “The rumor mill is going mad.'”

The next day, March 29, DeLaurentis gathered about four dozen members of the embassy’s American staff — everyone in the building who had a security clearance. This time, after surrendering their cell phones, they crowded into a windowless conference room that had been outfitted as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF (pronounced “skiff.”) It had already been more than a month since DeLaurentis delivered his formal complaint to the Cuban government, but most of the people in the room were hearing about the incidents for the first time.

According to three officials who attended the meeting, DeLaurentis calmly laid out the basic details of what some of the diplomats had experienced. There was much they still did not understand about what had happened and who might be behind it, he said, but investigations were underway, and the Cuban authorities were taking steps they had promised to increase the diplomats’ security. He encouraged anyone who thought they might have been exposed, or who had any information that could be relevant to contact him or speak with the embassy’s security officer. Medical specialists were available to examine anyone who showed signs of a problem.

If DeLaurentis was hoping to calm his troops, he appears to have been only modestly successful. Part of the problem, diplomats said, was that he concluded the meeting by asking the assembled staff to avoid talking about the situation outside the secure confines of the embassy, even with their families. Although the matter was still classified, that request struck at least some of them as unreasonable, even outrageous. “We thought that was nuts,” said one official who attended the meeting. “There were family members who were attacked at home. How could we not tell them to watch out for this?”

Concerns among the staff and their dependents about their health exploded. Within barely a month, diplomats reported a flurry of new incidents. By the end of April, more than 80 diplomats, family members and other personnel — a very high proportion for a mission that included about 55 American staff — had asked to be checked out by the Miami medical team. That group was led by an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Michael E. Hoffer, who has worked extensively with military veterans who suffered vestibular trauma from explosions and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Based on examinations in both Miami and Havana, it quickly identified almost a dozen new cases — nearly half the number that would eventually be confirmed.

The affected diplomats experienced a wide range of sensations: Some heard sharp, piercing noises or a cicada-like buzz. Others felt concentrated “beams” of sound or auditory vibrations like those from the half-open window of a fast-moving car. Still others heard no sound at all. According to a one-page summary of the cases that was jointly prepared for the Cuban government by the State Department’s bureaus of Medical Services and Western Hemisphere affairs, “Some voiced feeling shocked or shaken by the exposure, or awoken (sic) from sleep, and others described a more gradual onset of symptoms that continued for days to weeks afterwards.”

Amid the fear that gripped many, some embassy staff came forward saying they might have heard or felt similar phenomena, but were found after being interviewed not to require medical attention. Among the first 20 people examined by specialists in Havana and Miami, nine were found to have no discernable symptoms, while nine others had “moderate” effects like headaches, nausea, tinnitus and dizziness. Only two had what were termed “the most severe” effects, including the younger man who reported the first symptoms in late December.

After another lull of a few weeks, a disturbing new incident occurred in late April at the Hotel Capri, a 19-story landmark that was once a favorite of various Mafia dons and the actor Errol Flynn. Now run by a Spanish firm, the hotel was one of several used by the U.S. Embassy to put up diplomats and official visitors. Around April 21, an embassy staffer who was staying there during renovations on his apartment was shaken at night by a piercing noise in his room. A day or two later, an American doctor who had just flown in with the University of Miami team experienced a similar phenomenon. Both men had rooms with relatively large windows, an official said, yet other guests apparently nearby heard nothing.

This time, the embassy responded to the Cubans more vehemently. The diplomats who had been affected earlier had been living in their homes for some time. But the two new Americans who reported being struck were in hotel rooms that were presumably known only to a small number of U.S. and Cuban officials, and the hotel staff. The doctor had just arrived on the island a day or two earlier. “Who knew that he was there?” DeLaurentis demanded of the Cuban foreign ministry, according to one official familiar with the exchange. “The U.S. government. And the Cuban government.”

Within the Trump administration, anger over the incidents grew. On May 20, Cuba’s independence day, the president issued a statement warning that “cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans.” Three days later, the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats in Washington who had been identified by the U.S. as spies. The expulsions were not made public, and no word of the acoustic mystery in Havana leaked to the news media. Yet even as diplomats and law-enforcement officials from the two countries continued to collaborate on the investigation in a limited, low-key way, the relationship veered back toward confrontation.

The Trump administration was by then finalizing plans to undo Obama’s rapprochement. Exactly what it would roll back to was uncertain; Trump suggested that the Cubans had gotten off easy on human rights, but he offered no particular rebuttal to the argument made by State Department officials and others in the government that greater engagement with Cuba was the most effective way to promote economic and eventually political liberalization there. Some American business groups and more moderate Cuban-American political groups also pushed for continued engagement. But in a new administration that had not filled senior Latin America posts at the State Department or on the NSC staff, many officials said there was a vacuum of policy leadership on the issue.

Related: These Marines lowered the flag at the US Embassy in Cuba 54 years ago. Now they’ll raise it again.

That vacuum was filled above all by the former campaign rival whom Trump had disparaged as “Little Marco.” Starting soon after the administration’s first closed-door intelligence briefing to Congress on the Havana incidents, Rubio pushed for a tougher response, officials said, and also advocated a series of hardline proposals to the broader Cuba policy. The White House “asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Senator Rubio told McClatchy newspapers. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”

On June 16, Trump traveled to Miami to announce he was “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” Although the changes fell short of that, Trump ordered government agencies to revise regulations on travel and business to prohibit any transactions with hotels, restaurants, stores and other companies tied to the large tourism and business operations of the Cuban military. Americans other than Cuban-Americans would not be allowed to travel on their own for general tourism purposes, but only with organized educational and other groups on pre-set itineraries. Any further improvements in the bilateral relationship, Trump said, would be contingent on human rights improvements in Cuba. “Now that I am president,” Trump promised, “we will expose the crimes of the Castro regime!”

In Havana, the diplomat who had first heard the noises in his garden was sent off to Miami in early April for medical testing with a cluster of other embassy personnel. He and his wife would return only to pack their things. Before leaving Cuba, though, he stopped to say goodbye at the home of one of his Canadian neighbors and tell him a bit about why they had to leave. The Canadian diplomat was worried: His family had been hearing similar sounds, he said. Could they have caused a mysterious nosebleed his son had suffered? Or headaches his wife had had?

In late April, DeLaurentis had invited over a small group of ambassadors from countries closely allied with the U.S. — Canada, Britain, France and others — to let them know what had been happening to his staff and ask if anyone else had experienced something similar. Other than one report from a French diplomat that was quickly discounted, the only significant response came from the embassy of Canada. In early May, the Canadian ambassador, Patrick Parisot, gathered the 18 diplomats on his staff to relay the Americans’ warning and ask if anyone had heard strange noises or suffered unusual illness. Several people reported back, a Canadian official said, including one (apparently the American diplomat’s neighbor) who said he had heard strange noises in his garden back in March.

As at the American embassy, fears about what was happening spread quickly through the Canadian staff. In all, 27 Canadian diplomats, spouses and children, representing 10 of the embassy’s families, sought medical attention. Of those, eight people from five families — including two children — would be diagnosed with symptoms that were milder than those of almost all the American patients: nosebleeds, dizziness, headaches and insomnia. All would recover fairly quickly.

In general, a Canadian official involved with the case said, the experience that triggered the Canadian diplomats’ symptoms was quite different from those reported by the Americans. In addition to the Canadian diplomat who said he had heard noises in his garden, members of another diplomatic family reported one day in June that they had heard a sudden, twanging sound, like a piece of sheet metal being waved; one family member later became ill. But the other six Canadians who were sickened did not hear or experience anything similar.

“In most cases, there weren’t really attacks that we could point to,” the Canadian official said. “The American experience was all about acoustic events and people feeling ill, and we had people feeling ill with limited connections to acoustic events.”

The Canadian foreign ministry also managed the issue very differently from the Americans, avoiding any criticism of the Cuban government. The ministry said it had no plans to reduce diplomatic staffing levels in Havana, and it quickly replaced the three embassy families that chose to return home because of the problem. The government also said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had received all the assistance it asked of the Cuban government. “The Cubans are pretty attached to the 1.2 million Canadian tourists who come to Cuba every year, so they’ve got a pretty strong incentive to nip this in the bud,” the official said. “They’ve been very proactive in trying to help us.”

However, the Canadian police have made virtually no real progress in their investigation, the official said, despite help from both the Cuban security forces and the FBI. After consulting with intelligence and technology experts, U.S. and Canadian security officials have recommended that diplomats and their families move away as quickly as possible from any unusual sound they might hear. The U.S. embassy also handed out high-frequency recorders so diplomats could record the noises, and relocated some of them from homes where the sounds or vibrations had been felt repeatedly.

The FBI investigative team, which has included members of a Miami-based unit that investigates crimes against U.S. citizens in Latin America, has visited Cuba four times since May. The group has interviewed diplomats and other officials of both countries, examined the homes and hotels where incidents took place, and conducted other inquiries. Their assessments have fed into elaborate matrices comparing the physical circumstances of the reported incidents with the sensations that the Americans described and the medical problems they later suffered. They also contributed to the still-secret report of the bureau’s Operational Technology Division on Jan. 4 that concluded that the Americans’ symptoms were not caused by some type of sonic device. (A State Department diplomatic security official, Todd Brown, said the investigators are still considering the possibility that sound was used to mask some other harmful agent or technology.)

The Havana investigation has also involved a wide range of U.S. scientific and technological agencies, including the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But officials said it is not clear that any of those have made significant progress, either. In addition to ultrasonic and infrasonic technologies, they have examined other directed-energy technologies. Some inquiry has also focused on the possible use of microwaves, harking back to the Moscow Signal, an episode from the 1970s in which Soviet intelligence beamed microwave signals into the U.S. embassy in Moscow to activate a passive receiver hidden in the office of the United States ambassador, officials said. Americans in the embassy were later reported to have been sickened by the phenomenon, but their symptoms did not closely resemble those suffered by diplomats in Cuba.

In interviews, former U.S. intelligence officers said they were also skeptical of the idea that the U.S. diplomats in Cuba might have been subjected to some new surveillance effort gone awry. Because the Cubans have always kept close tabs on American diplomats in Havana, they said, the security forces generally know they have little to fear from the recruitment or intelligence-gathering efforts of American spies stationed on the island. The intelligence experts also noted that the monitoring of diplomats at home is a labor-intensive task that would likely be reserved for the most important targets.

“In my experience, those operations at residences mean you end up sifting through a lot of trash,” said Charles S. (Sam) Faddis, a former senior CIA operations officer. “The product you get is filled with extraneous noise, daily life, every marital disagreement, the sounds of the TV, the kids, the dog. It seems like a lot of effort for that kind of target.”

Among the scientists whom the FBI team has sought out was Allen Sanborn, a biologist at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, who has spent 30 years studying cicada populations in Latin America and elsewhere. Dr. Sanborn said that while cicadas do make very loud noises, “it’s doubtful they could cause injury in Cuba because of the size and species.” He estimated that the Cuban cicada could reach a deafening 95 decibels at a distance of about 20 inches, but emphasized that the sound-pressure level would drop six decibels with every doubling distance. So, at 40 inches away, the sound intensity would fall to 89 decibels, and at 80 inches it would fall to 83 decibels, and so on. “It wouldn’t really hurt you unless it was shoved into your ear canal,” he said in an interview.

The four FBI agents who came to Dr. Sanborn’s home for the interview asked him a series of questions about insect calls in general and cicadas in particular. Then, they asked him to listen to about a dozen recordings made by American diplomats in Havana who had experienced what they thought at the time was some type of sonic attack. Some were shorter, some longer, Dr. Sanborn said, but all were about the same frequency and seemed to be the same sort of sound. He cautioned that the recordings were not of an extremely high quality, but he offered the agents his best judgement.

“The three possibilities are crickets, cicadas and katydids,” he said. “They sounded to me like cicadas.”

Dr. Sanborn said he gave the agents a couple of academic papers he has written that include analyses of the temporal patterns and spectral frequency of various cicada calls, but has not heard from them again.

Only the medical side of the investigation has produced somewhat more conclusive results. In early July, the State Department’s medical services bureau assembled a panel of neurological, otolaryngological and other experts to review the medical files of the Havana patients. The physicians allowed that at least some of what the diplomats had experienced could have come from other sources, including “viral illnesses, previous head trauma, aging, and even stress,” Dr. Rosenfarb said. But, he added, the experts’ consensus was that “the patterns of injuries that had so far been noted were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.”

There had been no new attacks since April, although some of those affected only reported their symptoms weeks or months later. But then, around Aug. 21, two more incidents were reported, at least one of them at the Hotel Nacional, a fortress of 1930s luxury not far from the Capri. Shortly after doctors confirmed on Sept. 1 that the two patients showed symptoms associated with the incidents, the State Department put the Havana mission on a “voluntary departure” status, allowing any of those serving there to leave with their families. The reason the department gave for the order was the impending Hurricane Irma, which raged across the north coast of the Island a few days later.

But many of those who left temporarily would not return, or would go back only to gather their belongings. In a sweeping, punitive action on Sept. 29, the State Department ordered home 24 of the 47 diplomats assigned to Havana, including all of those with families. It effectively shut down the embassy’s consular section except for emergency services. The department then ordered 15 more Cuban diplomats to leave Washington, including some involved in visa-processing and commercial affairs.

The department still did not accuse the Cuban government of direct involvement in what it called the Havana “attacks.” But it warned Americans not to travel to the island in terms more ominous than those sometimes used for some countries wracked by political upheaval, and caveats it offered about the continuity of diplomatic relations were quickly lost in the surging rhetoric. “There is no way that someone could carry out these number of attacks, with that kind of technology, without the Cubans knowing about it,” asserted Senator Rubio, who had again been urging a more forceful response. “They either did it, or they know who did it.”

The Cubans, Trump declared, “did some very bad things.”

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
President Donald Trump. (DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

It was a script that the Cuban government seemed to recognize. The foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, who had earlier called Trump’s Miami speech in June “a grotesque spectacle,” emphasized one point above others: The United States had presented no evidence whatsoever that the Cubans had done anything but try to help investigate the problem. Although the United States has suggested that Cuba have failed to live up to its responsibilities to protect foreign diplomats under the Vienna Conventions, Cuban officials have emphasized that Washington has not cited any specific actions the Cuban government has failed to take toward that end.

“Cuba has taken absolutely no measures at all against the United States,” Rodríguez said, referring to American sanctions. “It does not discriminate against its companies. It invites its citizens to visit us, promotes dialogue and bilateral cooperation.” The actions taken by the United States, he added, “can only benefit the sinister interests of a handful of people.”

Foreign-policy experts inside and outside the government generally agree that the Havana incidents seem to run counter to the interests of the Castro government. “The Cuban regime was not interested in antagonizing the Trump administration,” said Craig Deare, who was fired last February as the National Security Council’s senior Latin America specialist after he criticized Trump’s confrontational approach to Mexico. “It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.”

The diplomats’ expulsions and the travel warning, along with the earlier tightening of the embargo and the hurricane, have already cut the flow of American tourists to the island. American business activity has dropped off further, in part due to the departure of Cuban diplomats in Washington who set up meetings and processed visas. Cuban dissidents also have complained that declining tourism has badly hurt small, independent businesses like guest houses, family restaurants and the like.

The Cuban government’s own investigation into the incidents has been another central piece of its public relations counteroffensive. According to Cuban news accounts, some 2,000 people have been involved in the inquiry, in which police detectives have questioned neighbors of the diplomats (who said they did not recall hearing anything unusual), Cuban doctors (who wondered why the Americans had never sought attention for their acute problems) and their own battery of scientists and technologists.

Cuban engineers also analyzed recordings that officials said were made by the American diplomats. The engineers also concluded that the noises were at decibel levels too low to cause hearing loss — but that the primary sounds on the recordings were made by cicadas. Other Cuban scientists have suggested that the Americans’ illnesses were psychosomatic.

Despite months of scrutiny by American intelligence assets, officials said U.S. intelligence agencies have gathered virtually no secondary evidence that Cuba might have assisted directly or indirectly in attacks on the Americans. Nor is there any indication that the Cuban government has identified some rogue faction of security forces that might have wanted to undermine the rapprochement with Washington, officials said.

The idea of such a rogue element working to subvert a major government initiative has been bandied about frequently in Washington in recent months. Although the inner workings of the Castro regime have always been somewhat opaque to outsiders, many longtime analysts of the Cuban politics are skeptical. “It’s hugely ironic that the rogue faction theory is coming from exactly the same people who say the Cuban government knows absolutely everything that’s going on in the country,” Armstrong, the former senior CIA analyst, said. “But there has never been any evidence of rogue factions working outside the system.” He recalled that in the one case that perhaps came closest — the show-trial conviction of several influential military and intelligence officers for drug trafficking and other crimes in 1989 — there was even some circumstantial evidence that the illicit activities had been tolerated by superiors.

Other than a few wildly far-fetched possibilities — North Korean agents running around Havana, or perhaps a secret team of Venezuelan spies subverting their own government’s closest ally — that would seem to leave only Russia. For Moscow, helping to derail the hard-won entente between Washington and Havana might constitute a geopolitical masterstroke, some U.S. officials said. It would fit into the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign to undermine its western adversaries, using everything from espionage operations to election cyberattacks. Russia also has a long history of harassing American diplomats, a pattern that has intensified in Moscow since 2014, said Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank.

After some years of Cuban hostility following the Soviet Union’s collapse and Russia’s withdrawal of the vast subsidies it had provided for decades, the Kremlin has made new efforts to solidify the two countries’ strategic bond. Russia has helped to offset the loss of Venezuelan oil imports with 1.9 million barrels of fuel (estimated to be worth $105 million at discounted rates), and Russian exports to Cuba nearly doubled last year. In December, Raúl Castro received the head of the Russian state energy giant Rosneft, stirring speculation that a major oil-exploration or supply deal might be in the works. The two countries’ security relationship has also grown. In December of 2016, just as the incidents affecting U.S. personnel began, Russia and Cuba signed a new agreement on defense and technology cooperation.

Related: The Cuban Missile Crisis: 13 days that almost ended the world

Along with a possible motive, the Russians might have the technological means — or at least the capacity to have plausibly developed a directed-energy weapon that U.S. scientists could not identify. Yet by now, officials said, intelligence analysts would also have expected to have culled from electronic intercepts of overseas conversations at least some secondary evidence that the Russians might be involved — suspicious telephone or email conversations, suggestive messages, movements of Russian agents — something. But officials said they have found virtually nothing that would constitute real evidence. They also wonder whether Russia would risk its growing relationship with Cuba by carrying out an operation that could undermine the island’s most important diplomatic initiative in decades.

Even if Russia had developed some new and compact directed-energy weapon that could have been used to attack the American diplomats, there would still have been extremely complex logistical challenges to its deployment. Russian agents would presumably have had to locate at least two dozen American diplomats in Havana, reach them covertly and repeatedly, and in some of the most heavily policed areas of what many consider a police state. Nor have intelligence agencies documented tests of a similar weapon on some other target, or signs that Russia might have moved agents into Cuba to carry out such an operation.

In the continuing absence of any real evidence of how the Americans were stricken, the Trump administration appears to have no easy path forward. About 10 of the diplomats and spouses continue to undergo vestibular and neurological rehabilitation, both in Washington and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Some have moved on to new jobs in Washington or overseas, or have been kept busy in the Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau with such tasks as processing Freedom of Information Act requests or handling employment applications with the human resources staff, officials said.

By March 4, the State Department will have to decide whether to make the withdrawal of the diplomats a permanent reduction in staff. An internal department document obtained by ProPublica also suggests that the slowdown of consular activity may make it difficult for the United States to meet its commitment to processing at least 20,000 immigrant visas for Cubans this year, an annual target that is important to Cuban-Americans seeking to bring relatives from the island. American diplomats — including some of those forced to leave Havana — also say that the department has also reduced its ability to see, understand and perhaps influence what is happening in Cuba at a potentially historic transition point.

“Our diplomats want to go back,” one American official who has been extensively briefed on the developments in Havana said. “But if you can’t get to the bottom of this situation, how does that happen?”

MIGHTY MOVIES

We Are The Mighty screens ‘Kilo Two Bravo’ for enthusiastic crowd

“[Kilo Two Bravo is] less about the flag for which these men may die but the weary bravery they must summon to survive.”

Miami Herald, 4/5 stars


 

We Are The Mighty hosted a screening of the war film “Kilo Two Bravo” at the Lido theater in Newport, CA on November 10. Described as “the most honest and unflinching look at the reality and brutality of war”, the film was well received by the 200-some people in attendance.

“Kilo Two Bravo” tells the true story of a platoon on a mission to neutralize a Taliban roadblock in the Kajaki region of Afghanistan. While closing in on the insurgents, the unit find themselves marooned in the middle of a minefield, setting in motion a desperate rescue mission. This taut thriller tells the story of heroism, courage and survival and captures what war is like for those fighting it in the 21st Century.

“Kilo Two Bravo” is now in theaters and available on iTunes.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A former SecDef dispels myths about the Tet Offensive

Around midnight on Jan. 30, 1968, Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army troops began a massive surprise attack on U.S., South Vietnamese, and allied forces across South Vietnam.


The Tet Offensive, as it came to be known, was actually a three-phase campaign, lasting from Jan. 30 – March 28, May 5 – June 15, and Aug. 17 – Sept. 23.

“The event really defined the course of the rest of the [Vietnam] war and how it ended, which was a pretty inglorious ending,” said former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Hagel, who was with the 47th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam during Tet, spoke at the “Vietnam: The Tet Offensive” panel discussion, Jan. 25, at the National Archives.

Then a 21-year-old private first class, Hagel, just two months in country, said his mechanized infantry unit sustained heavy casualties in the vicinity of Long Binh.

The attack was a complete surprise, he said. What happened in Long Binh was typical of what was happening across the country.

The U.S. had completely underestimated the strength of the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrilla forces from South Vietnam, he said. It came as a shock to the American public and turned public opinion against the war.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

One of the myths of Tet, he said, is that it was a big enemy military victory, he added. It wasn’t. “Our military actually did very well considering.”

Erik B. Villard, a historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History, said there were other myths about Tet, some of which he wrote about in his Center for Military History book, “Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968.”

One myth, he said, was that the North Vietnamese orchestrated a number of major battles prior to Tet in the autumn of 1967 to draw U.S. forces away from the cities so they would be in a better position to succeed in capturing the urban areas.

The real story is more interesting, he said. The 1967 battles were local and regional campaigns, planned over the spring and summer of that year.

The idea for the Tet Offensive did not even occur to the enemy at the time, as their strategic planning process tended to be short-term and, at times, very chaotic, he said.

Also, why would they want to launch a major battle in November 1967, just months before Tet when full strength would be needed? There wouldn’t be adequate recovery time, he said, noting that the National Archives provided some key documents he used in his research.

Also Read: 17 wild facts about the Vietnam War

A second myth, Villard said, was that Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of American forces in Vietnam, “was wedded to this notion of victory through attrition; that the way to succeed was to kill enough of the enemy that you crossed this imaginary threshold and you could just kind of grind your way toward success.

“Westmoreland deserves far more credit than he’s gotten in my view,” he added.

He was a shrewd person who understood the value of pacification and cutting enemy supply lines, as he was doing in secret operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Villard noted.

A third myth, he said, is that U.S. military policy changed when Westmoreland was replaced by Gen. Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. in June 1968, in the middle of the Tet Offensive.

Abrams and Westmoreland saw mostly eye-to-eye on strategy, he said. The mission continued to be defending bases and lines of communication, as well as air interdiction operations and supporting pacification.

Pacification was a term used at the time to denote counterinsurgency operations, which included advise and assist missions and winning over the loyalty of the local population.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Group of Soldiers from ARVN with SFC Norman A. Doney, 5th S.F. Group Abn., 1st S.F., Vietnam, Sept. 1968.

Policy didn’t actually change until after mid-1969 when Vietnamization took hold, he said. Vietnamization consisted of drawing down U.S. forces and transferring responsibility to the South Vietnamese forces.

The buildup of forces into 1968 and the draw down a year later had already been planned on Westmoreland’s watch, he said.

Merle L. Pribbenow II, an author specializing in the Vietnam War, with five years of service in Vietnam during the war as a CIA operative, said that a widespread myth was that the Tet Offensive was a well planned and executed enemy attack.

That’s completely false, he said, referencing documents and interviews of NVA and VC commanders after the war.

Many of those generals became bitter with the way they and their units were treated by their own military and political leaders and the high numbers of casualties that resulted, he said.

“We focus on how we felt Army commanders screwed up and were unprepared. [The North Vietnamese] were saying the exact same things again and again,” he said.

After the war, the Vietnamese did tactical reviews and battle studies, just as the U.S. Army did, to learn lessons and assess strengths and weaknesses, he noted.

The takeaway from that assessment, he said, was that the communists acknowledged that a lot of the poor decision-making during Tet resulted from underestimating U.S. military response, as well as the loyalty of the South Vietnamese people.

Like the Americans, the communists also inflated their own body counts, minimized their failures, and exaggerated their accomplishments, he said.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
The 47th Infantry Regiment takes the offensive May 1968 in South Saigon. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was with the 47th Infantry in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and he spoke about it at the National Archives Jan. 25, 2018. (Photo from Kenneth Pollard)

The biggest problem, he added, was that shortcomings were not reported up the chain of command and authorities refused to listen to subordinates.

As a result of the assessment, he said the military leadership of Vietnam decided on a new approach. From then on, leaders were instructed to encourage subordinates to tell the truth, even if it wasn’t something they wanted to hear or went against their own thinking.

Gregory Daddis, an associate professor of history and director of Chapman University’s Master of Arts program in War and Society, said another myth was that the U.S. media was to blame for the lack of political will after the Tet Offensive.

There’s a tendency, he said, to find someone to blame when a bad outcome occurs.

Looking back 50 years ago to the Tet Offensive gives everyone an opportunity to gain a better perspective on everything that took place, he said.

An important takeaway from Tet, he said, is that sometimes military action might not be the best tool in all situations to achieve the desired political effect.

Hagel added that “in the end, war is determined not by military might but by the support of the people. We found ourselves on the wrong side of that.”

He concluded: “The sacrifices made by over 56,000 Americans who lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of individuals who were wounded, and all who served, were never really given much recognition for an assignment they didn’t choose. But they served and they served honorably, and did what their country asked them to do. And I think that’s a part of this story that needs to be told more often.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 of the ways to lose the “once a Marine, always a Marine” status

You see and hear this term all the time: “former Marine.” And, wherever you see it, you’ll also see Marines telling you (and everyone else) why we hate it. Sure, there are a few folks out there who agree with it, but those of us who hold the title near and dear to our hearts will tell you a different story.

In my opinion, there’s a damned good reason for the expression, “once a Marine, always a Marine.” Others disagree.


To be fair, this is not a mentality exclusive to Marines. Just because you “get out” doesn’t mean you’re no longer a Marine, soldier, airman, coast guardsman, etc. You don’t just instantly forget everything you’ve learned and experienced over the past few years once you get your DD-214. Joining the military makes you a part of a fraternity and you’ll find that you resonate better with other veterans than you do with people from any other walk of life for one simple reason: You became a part of something much larger than yourself.

Your membership was paid for in blood, sweat, and tears, along with the countless hours you spent dedicated to the cause. To say a veteran is an “ex-” anything is highly inaccurate.

However, there are certain qualities (mostly conscious choices) that define a former Marine. These are just a few of those qualities:

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Maybe you just need some new Drill Instructors…

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Severe lack of discipline

It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting your discipline slide when you get out — in fact, a lot of us are guilty of this. But at some point, we pick it back up and we reintegrate it into our lives. To allow this discipline to drop off entirely is most definitely a conscious choice — one that can lead to the discontinuation of other hard-earned qualities.

Forgotten core values

No matter which branch you join, you’ll first learn the core values and then you’ll embody them. Those values shape your personal code and you live by them while you’re in the military. When you get out, if you aren’t still using them to find some direction in life, you’ve earn the “ex” in front of your title.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

Just remember what you learned.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Lack of leadership

Almost everyone comes out of the military with some type of leadership capabilities. Something you hear often in the military is, “in the absence of leadership, be a leader.” This applies heavily to civilian life because there’s often severe absence of leadership. If you get out of the military without learning how to take control from time to time, you likely didn’t learn much else.

Lack of punctuality

We’re all guilty of being late to something at some point. It just happens, it’s the way of life. But, those who learned anything from time in service will remember the factors that played into that tardiness, both self-inflicted and external, and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

If you’re choosing to be late because you just don’t care — you’ve given up your title.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

If you define yourself as an “ex-Marine,” by all means.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

A conscious decision to no longer be a Marine

There’s a common belief among those who served that states you should always work to justify the fact that you’ve earned the right to be called a Marine (or solider, or airmen, etc). You should continuously employ the values learned in service in forming your civilian life.

There is, however, another side to this — and it’s simple. If you decide you’re no longer fitting of that title because you’ve grown a beard or whatever other, arbitrary reason, then you aren’t.

Many of us still believe in our titles and we’re willing to continue to honor it. It’s a lifetime effort and, if you’re not willing to make the commitment, nobody else will make it for you.

Articles

Chief of US Naval Operations explains why he’s not afraid of China’s ‘carrier killer’ missile

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, the 31st CNO. | Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird


Speaking at a Center for a New American Security conference on Monday, the US Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, explained why China’s DF-21D “carrier killer” antiship ballistic missile isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The DF-21D, an indigenously created, precision-guided missile capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier with a single shot, has a phenomenal range of up to 810 nautical miles, while US carriers’ longest-range missiles can travel only about 550 miles away.

Therefore, on paper, the Chinese can deny aircraft carriers the luxury of wading off of their shores and forcing them to operate outside of their effective range.

But Richardson contested that notion.

“I think there is this long-range precision-strike capability, certainly,” Richardson acknowledged. But “A2/AD [anti-access/area-denial] is sort of an aspiration. In actual execution, it’s much more difficult.”

China’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities (ISR), bolstered by a massive modernization push and advanced radar installations on the reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, have theoretically given them the ability to project power for hundreds of miles.

“The combination of ubiquitous ISR, long-range precision-strike weapons takes that to another level and demands a response,” said Richardson, adding that China’s extension into the Pacific created a “suite of capabilities” that were of “pressing concern.”

But the US Navy won’t be defeated or deterred by figures on paper.

Richardson said:

“In the cleanest form, the uninterrupted, frictionless plane, you have the ability to sense a target much more capably and quickly around the world, you’ve got the ability, then, to transmit that information back to a weapon system that can reach out at a fairly long range and it is precision-guided … You’re talking about hundreds of miles now, so that raises a challenge.”

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan
Two carriers in the South China Sea. | US Navy photo

“Our response would be to inject a lot of friction into that system at every step of the way [and] look to make that much more difficult,” he continued.

Richardson was clear that China’s purported capabilities were only speculations.

“What you see often is a display of ‘Here’s this launcher, here’s a circle with a radius of 700 miles, and it’s solid-color black inside’ … And that’s just not the reality of the situation,” he said.

“You’ve got this highly maneuverable force that has a suite of capabilities that the force can bring to bear to inject uncertainty,” Richardson continued.

Richardson also went on to address the dual aircraft carrier deployments in the Pacific and the Mediterranean, saying that the deployments afforded a rare opportunity for “high-end war fighting and training,” as carrier groups rarely get to train with each other in realistic, not just theoretical, situations.

MIGHTY TRENDING

SpaceX just fired up its Mars spaceship prototype for the first time

With a deafening roar that rattled windows, SpaceX — the rocket company founded by Elon Musk — fired up its new Mars rocket-ship prototype for the first time April 3, 2019.

The roughly 60-foot-tall stainless-steel rocket ship, called the “Starhopper” (previously the “Test Hopper”), is a basic prototype of a much larger vehicle called Starship. When completed, perhaps in the early 2020s, the two-stage launcher may stand perhaps 400 feet tall and be capable of landing its nearly 200-foot-tall spaceship on Mars.

The Starhopper prototype gave a full-throated yet brief one-second roar of its sole Raptor engine at 7:57 p.m. CDT on April 3, 2019, based on Business Insider’s eyewitness account.


“Starhopper completed tethered hop. All systems green,” Musk tweeted shortly after the brief firing here on Brazos Island. SpaceX had planned to test the rocket ship earlier this month but had issues with ice-crystal formation in the engine.

A camera on South Padre Island, which is located about 5 1/2 miles from SpaceX’s launch site, recorded the first fiery “hop” test through the haze:

FIRST STARSHIP RAPTOR STATIC FIRE TEST AT SPACEX BOCA CHICA TEXAS

www.youtube.com

The sound here on Brazos Island was deafening — so loud that part of a resident’s window blinds was knocked off its frame.

“I was cooking collard greens and my house started rattling. It was like a couple of jet airplanes taking off in your living room,” said Maria Pointer, a retired deck officer who lives with her husband, Ray, about 1.8 miles from SpaceX’s new launchpad.

She said previous tests by SpaceX were loud — comparable to the noise of a jet engine — but “this was magnified to about 10 jet-engine roars,” she said.

First Raptor Static Fire test on StarHopper – April 3, 2019

www.youtube.com

“It reminds you of when the Blue Angels fly over real low,” she added. “That’s the sound. It rattled everything. This was the full Raptor with all the juice going to it. This was the real thing.”

The lone road to SpaceX

SpaceX has been coordinating with Cameron County law enforcement to close access to Highway 4 — the only road into and out of the remote beach community, which about two dozen people share with SpaceX.

During SpaceX’s tests and road closings, renters and longtime residents are permitted to pass through a soft checkpoint about 15 miles east of Boca Chica Village. For safety reasons — the Starhopper is an experimental vehicle that might explode — no one is allowed to pass through a hard checkpoint about 1 1/2 miles west of the launchpad.

Boca Chica Beach, a popular spot with locals from Brownsville and other areas, is also closed during testing operations. Each day of testing has lasted about eight hours.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

SpaceX workers taking Starhopper to a launchpad near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, on March 8, 2019.

(Maria Pointer (bocachicaMaria)

On April 3, 2019, multiple residents said the road closings had proved increasingly vexing, given their frequency, extended hours, and tightening security meant to ward off gawkers.

When Cameron County, the state, and other authorities gave SpaceX permission to use the site in 2014, the company agreed to close the road about once a month. Ray Pointer said the road had closings more or less every day for the past week.

Despite the tightened security and compounding inconvenience, Maria Pointer said it was fun to hear and see a bit of history taking place.

“This is the good part about it all,” she said. “It’s exciting.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came to be

At the heart of Arlington National Cemetery lies one of our nation’s most magnificent displays of honor and respect to our fallen troops. Three unnamed graves are tended to by some of the most disciplined soldiers the military has to offer. The soldiers tirelessly guard the monument. Every hour (or half hour, during the spring and summer months), the guard is changed with an impressive, precise ceremony.

Each year, these three fallen soldiers receive up to four million visitors — but it’s not about honoring the specific individuals contained within the tomb. In death, these three fallen soldiers have became a symbol, representing each and every troop who gave their last breath in service of this great nation. Every step taken by the sentinels, every bouquet of flowers offered, every wreath laid, and every flag placed is for every American troop who has fallen.

This is exactly what was intended when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated almost one hundred years ago, on November 11, 1921.


This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

The King of England is also the head of the Church of England, so he chose to place the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, where all future kings and queens would be crowned, married, and buried.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The tradition of honoring a fallen but unknown troop actually originated as a joint effort between France and the UK.

In 1916, David Railton was a chaplain in the English Army serving on the Western Front of World War I. Near Armentières, France, he discovered a rough, wooden cross planted in the middle of a battlefield. It read, simply, “an unknown British soldier, of the Black Watch.”

David Railton would go on to join the clergy after the war, but the image of that cross never left his mind. It took years, but after many attempts, he finally got the ear of Bishop Herbert Ryle, the Dean of Westminster. Railton wanted to repatriate the remains of this fallen soldier and give him proper honors, despite not knowing his identity. Bishop Ryle was moved by Rev. Railton’s passionate words and went directly to King George V with his proposal.

Reverend Railton would later say,

“How that grave caused me to think!… But, who was he, and who were they [his folk]?… Was he just a laddie… . There was no answer to those questions, nor has there ever been yet. So I thought and thought and wrestled in thought. What can I do to ease the pain of father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, wife and friend? Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong, “Let this body – this symbol of him – be carried reverently over the sea to his native land.” And I was happy for about five or ten minutes.”

The soldier was buried at Westminster Abbey, London on November 11, 1920, thus creating what’s now known as The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

It’s fitting that the Arch built in honor of the French victory in WWI would also be the final resting site for her unknown soldier.

(Photo by Jorge Lascar)

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, in France, a young officer in the Le Souvenir Français, an association responsible for maintaining war memorials, had better luck. He argued for bringing an unidentified fallen soldier into the Pantheon in Paris to honor of all fallen French soldiers from the Great War — and his proposal garnered support.

Both England and France decided to share the honors. They buried France’s Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the same day as The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest at Westminster.

This home-cooked meal helped a combat engineer transition home from Afghanistan

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody Torkelson)

The next year, as the United States began the process of repatriating remains from the European battlefield, plans for an American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier began to take shape. The originator of the idea remains unknown to history, but the selection process was public. On October 24, 1921, six American soldiers were asked to come to Châlons-sur-Marne, France. Each soldier was a highly decorated and highly respected member of their respective units. They were selected to be pallbearers for the remains as they made their way back to the States.

While there, the officer in charge of grave registrations, Major Harbold, randomly selected one of the men. He gave Sgt. Edward F. Younger a bouquet of pink and white roses and asked him to step inside the chapel alone. There, four identical, unmarked coffins awaited him. He was told that whichever coffin he laid the roses on would be laid to rest in the National Shrine.

Younger said of the event,

“I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know, it was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”

The remains were brought to the Capital Rotunda and remained there until November 11th, 1921. President Warren G. Harding officiated a ceremony in which he bestowed upon the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor and a Victoria Cross, given on behalf of King George V.

Since that day, the entombed soldier has been guarded every moment of every day, rain, shine, hurricane, or blizzard.

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