This female vet is one of history's most decorated combat photographers - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

“When you’re young, you have this sense of invincibility, ” says Stacy Pearsall. “You can hear the gunshots, but they can’t touch you.” Pearsall is a former Air Force Combat Photojournalist who spent much of her storied ten-year Air Force career assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston South Carolina. Her awards include the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor. She is one of two women to win Military Photographer of the Year and the only woman to win it twice. She has an honorary doctoral degree from The Citadel and was declared a Champion of Change by the White House.


During her first Iraq deployment in 2003, then-23-year-old Pearsall documented everything from Blackhawk helicopter sorties to foot patrols with Army infantry units on the ground. This would be the cornerstone of an epic that would impact thousands of veterans from across the US and around the globe.

“Throughout my deployment I photographed a civil affairs mission to rebuild a bombed out school where Saddam’s wife once taught,” Pearsall reflects. “We targeted it during “shock and awe” because Ba’athists used it as a headquarters. When we were gearing up for the convoy, there was one open seat in the lead vehicle and one in the rear. My partner and I drew straws to see who would sit where. As we departed the school, an IED buried under piles of debris detonated near my vehicle, sending projectiles and dust everywhere. It was fortunate the bomb wasn’t bigger. Everyone walked away that day.”

She waited to seek medical attention until she returned to the Air Force’s Camp Sather. She’d seen far worse wounds and didn’t want to make a big deal about whiplash and some blood in her ears. She played down her injuries and continued to document missions nearly every day until the end of her deployment.

“Suffice to say I slammed a lot of vitamin M,” Pearsall recalls.

Like many blast traumas, it was the injuries she couldn’t see that followed her home from deployment. Once back home in Charleston, Pearsall was cooking dinner and suddenly fell over. Her world was off-kilter and she couldn’t stand upright. Doctors thought her injuries gave way to viruses so she underwent the treatment for that with little to no relief. Today, a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) would’ve been more likely. For Pearsall, that diagnosis would not come for another five years.

“So I learned to deal with the vertigo and headaches,” Pearsall says. Despite the chronic headaches and neck pain, she continued her Air Force photojournalism career. Her work earned her Military Photographer of the Year (MPOY) in 2003, an annual award, open to all military personnel. During the judging, the panel referred to Stacy as ‘he‘. They did not do it years later, when she won for the second time.

While supporting Operation Enduring Freedom Horn of Africa, she teamed up with combat videographer Staff Sergeant Katie Robinson, an Air Force Reservist who would eventually become Pearsall’s battle buddy for life. The two worked to deploy together at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warhorse, near Baqubah, Iraq.

Despite a mud-floored CHU with a leaky roof and a critical satellite transmitter sitting in a pool of water, set out to prove they could hang with the soldiers at Warhorse.

“I was never faced with anything regarding my competency because I am a female,” Pearsall says. Initially, everyone was apprehensive because I was a photographer. I caught earfuls of inter-service rivalry for being Air Force but after our first firefight, word got around that I was worth having around. Instead of seeking them out, they started asking for our support.”

FOB Warhorse proved to be the right place for action. The Battle of Baqubah was the last major offensive of the Iraq War and would last seven months. Having freedom to do so, Pearsall and Robinson moved around the AOR documenting one key mission after another.

“I put those soldiers on a pedestal,” Pearsall reveals. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”

Pearsall and Robinson were supposed to accompany Delta Company into Baqubah on a raid to take down a house harboring enemy fighters. At the last minute, they were transferred to an Iraqi Army operation in nearby Buhriz. As they prepared for their new assignment, they listened to their friends’ progress as the reports trickled in.

“As the breach team moved in, the house blew,” Pearsall remembers. “The Bradleys came back to the FOB and began unloading the injured. The soldiers were a mess. We looked for our friends, but couldn’t see them. Then the last Bradley dropped ramp and unloaded those who were killed in action. Blue Platoon lost three really great guys that day. The rest of their team had to soldier on. Katie and I did too. We still had to go out and meet the Iraqi Army for our next operation.”

The two were split up between two Iraqi Army companies, with the idea they’d link back up in a few days. That was the plan, anyway.

“They shot my fucking thumb off!” Robinson said the minute she was struck by a nearby sniper. The sniper was aiming for an officer sitting next to Robinson. The bullet went through her left forearm, through her video camera and exploded the battery, which partially amputated her right thumb.

“I laughed when I heard that,” Pearsall remembers. “That’s what made us so close. Our collective humor, our unwavering bond, our utmost respect for each other.” When given the opportunity to redeploy home and rehab back in the United States, Robinson refused. Instead, she opted to return to FOB Warhorse.

“For me, the rest of the deployment was intense, just like that,” Pearsall says. “So many good soldiers taken so quickly, so young. Photographing the rare moments between gunfights was my favorite thing to do. It was my sense of home, of humanity.”

 

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Pearsall in action — camera in hand — during combat ops in Iraq. (Photo: USAF)

Toward the end of her deployment, Pearsall further injured her neck during an operation. Robinson finally convinced her to see a doctor. An x-ray led to a CAT scan and more tests. Doctors concluded she needed surgery. For Pearsall, that was not an option. She wanted to leave Iraq on her own terms.

“Katie was strong. I wanted to remain strong too,” Pearsall says. I already lived with the pain for so long, one flight home wasn’t going to kill me. It was the one thing I could control in a situation that seemed out of my control.”

“My neck wouldn’t heal enough for me to stay in the military,” Pearsall explains. “It was devastating. They offered alternatives, like admin or finance. But after you’ve tasted combat, you can’t go back. If I couldn’t fight, what was I supposed to do? My career in the military was over.”

“One day, while waiting for an appointment at my VA hospital, a World War II veteran leaned over and asked if I was taking my grandfather to his doctor’s appointment. He seemed surprised to learn I was a veteran. He told me how he helped liberate a concentration camp during WWII and I realized that I judged him unfairly – just as everyone was doing to me. So I set about healing myself through the experiences of other veterans.”

Now her mission continues. First on her mind is a portrait project, photographing veterans from every conflict and preserving their stories their image for generations to come.

“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” she says. “And I wanted to continue that service to my fellow veterans.”

Her work and personal recovery, isn’t limited to her portrait project. There were some whose stories could no longer be told firsthand. In 2012, she published Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera, a book of her Iraq War imagery.

“I couldn’t look at my photos without having an emotional response,” she says. “I wanted to put what happened on a page and shelve it, so I wouldn’t have to live that part of my life every day anymore. Shooter was my therapy. It was my way of honoring those who didn’t have a voice anymore, to share their experience with the world.”

Her second book, A Photojournalist’s Field Guide was published in 2013. Along with contributions from her heavy–hitter photojournalist friends, Pearsall created a guide to educate younger photographers. The book isn’t limited to photography tips. It includes insight on how to survive in austere conditions, cope with stress and maneuver through tough situations.

“I’m not the first woman to go into combat for the United States,” Pearsall explains. “There are a whole slew of women who fought for this country. Unfortunately, they’re not spoken much of in the history books.”

Not anymore. Pearsall’s project will ensure history won’t forget any veteran who fought for the U.S., regardless of gender.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

America has a secret missile covered in swords (and it actually makes war zones safer)

The most secretive parts of America’s defense apparatus have a missile covered in swords, and they’re using it to take out terrorists in Syria.

One significant change to warfare that’s come about in recent decades has been the advent of precision guided munitions and the resulting shift in the way America, and the world at large, sees collateral damage. During World War II, massive fleets of heavy bombers dotted the skies above Europe, laying waste to vast areas of territory in an effort to damage a nation’s industrial infrastructure and force submission.


This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

While there is still a use for this method of ordnance delivery, precision guided munitions have become the common platforms of choice for commanders in theater. (US Air Force Photo)

Thousands died in these large scale bombing campaigns, and today, many of those deaths would be considered unacceptable by the international community. Precision guided munitions with ever greater range and accuracy have replaced the carpet-bombing doctrine with the more cost effective and civilian friendly precision strike mindset. Today, collateral damage is not a thing of the past, but its metrics have shifted significantly. While carpet bombing raids may have killed hundreds or even thousands, the loss of a dozen civilian lives is now often considered too big a price to pay to engage many dangerous targets.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

All that remained of the German town of Wesel after allied bombing. (WikiMedia Commons)

This shift is undoubtedly a good thing from the macro perspective for humanity, but it raises a number of new challenges for America’s defense apparatus that’s tasked with engaging terrorists outside of America’s borders. It takes weeks, months, even years to gather all the necessary intelligence on a target before you might have an opportunity to take him out, and if the target is surrounded by civilians (as they tend to do for protection from air strikes), there’s a chance the U.S. military may miss its opportunity to strike.

That’s where the AGM-114R9X comes in. While it’s official name may be a mouthful, the missile itself utilizes a fairly simplistic approach to killing specific targets while minimizing the chances that anyone nearby will be hurt.

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The AGM-114R9X is, at its most simplistic levels, a Hellfire missile with the explosive warhead removed from the center portion of its body. In the warhead’s place are six extendable blades that bear a striking resemblance to swords. As brutal as this method of engaging a target may seem, the use of this missile actually makes going after these high value targets significantly safer for the civilians in the area.

Rather than utilizing explosive force or shrapnel from the missile’s body to kill its target and anyone else in the vicinity, the AGM-114R9X deploys its six swords upon impact with a target. Each blade is approximately 18 inches long, giving the missile a “kill radius” of only about three feet. Couple that with the Hellfire missile’s extremely accurate targeting capabilities, and you have a weapon that can take out the bad guys without worrying about a large explosion that could potentially hurt others.

The weapon’s development began under the CIA during the Obama Administration, and to date, has only been used in combat a handful of times. In each of these instances, these precision weapons appear to have been employed by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, though it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not there is any overlap between CIA and JSOC operations in terms of leveraging the AGM-114R9X in combat.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Charles Lister on Twitter

The “ninja sword” Hellfire missile saw a sharp uptick in press late last year after it was used twice in less than a week to kill different terrorists in Syria. The first strike took place on December 3, when an AGM-114R9X was used to engage the passenger seat specifically of a minivan in the Syrian city of Atmeh. The second took place somewhere between Afrin and Azaz, once again killing its target without injuring any bystanders. As pictures of the strikes and their aftermath hit social media, the U.S. government’s sword-wielding missile was introduced to the world, despite the general lack of formal acknowledgement from the Pentagon.

All told, this missile covered in swords is believed to have only seen use a half a dozen times, which coupled with the small amount of information released about the platform suggests that the missile is a limited production run that may be the result of modifying existing Hellfire platforms. Either that, or JSOC would just prefer to keep this secret close to the chest.

In any regard, it just got a little bit tougher to be a terrorist, and that’s always good news.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Articles

US Defense Chief says nukes still ‘bedrock’ of American security

Defense Secretary Ash Carter kicked off a visit to DoD’s nuclear deterrence enterprise, telling airmen at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, that DoD will invest, innovate and sustain to rebuild that enterprise’s capabilities that remain the bedrock of U.S. defense strategy.


The secretary spoke at a hangar on the flightline of the base. He thanked the airmen at the base, and by extension, thanked the thousands of other technicians who man, maintain, guard and operate the bombers, ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines and the command-and-control systems around the world.

“As you know, everyone has their role to play,” he said, “and while each physical piece is important, it’s really the people who make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
An unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Launch Facility-4 on Vandenberg Air Force Base Calif. The Minuteman III ICBM is an element of the nation’s strategic deterrent forces under the control of the Air Force Global Strike Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lael Huss)

The secretary emphasized throughout his talk with the airmen that America’s nuclear deterrence is the bedrock of U.S. security and the highest priority mission in the Defense Department.

“Because while it is a remarkable achievement that in the more than seven decades since 1945, nuclear weapons have not again been used in war, that’s not something we can ever take for granted,” he said. “And that’s why today, I want to talk about how we’re innovating and investing to sustain that bedrock.”

Carter has a long history with the nuclear mission, working in the 1980s on basing for the MX missile system. He speaks from experience when he says the deterrence mission has both remained the same and changed.

“At a strategic level, of course, you deter large-scale nuclear attack against the United States and our allies,” he said. “You help convince potential adversaries that they can’t escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression. You assure allies that our extended deterrence guarantees are credible — enabling many of them to forgo developing nuclear weapons themselves, despite the tough strategic environment they find themselves in and the technological ease with which they could develop such weapons.”

The nuclear deterrent also provides an umbrella under which service members accomplish conventional missions around the world, the secretary said.

But the nuclear landscape has changed and it will continue to pose challenges, Carter said.

“One way the nuclear landscape has changed: we didn’t build new types of nuclear weapons or delivery systems for the last 25 years, but others did, at the same time that our allies in Asia, the Middle East, and NATO did not,” the secretary said, “so we must continue to sustain our deterrence.”

Russia has modernized its nuclear arsenal, and there is some doubt about Russian leaders’ strategies for the weapons.

“Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations underscore that a diverse and dynamic spectrum of nuclear threats still exists,” Carter said. “So our deterrence must be credible, and extended to our allies in the region.”

North Korea is building nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them, the secretary said. The North Korean threat spurs spending on missile defense in the United States and the deployment of systems to South Korea, he added.

“We back all of that up with the commitment that any attack on America or our allies will be not only defeated, but that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with an overwhelming and effective response,” Carter said.

India and China are behaving responsibly with their nuclear enterprises, the secretary said.

“In Iran, their nuclear aspirations have been constrained and transparency over their activities increased by last year’s nuclear accord, which, as long as it continues to be implemented, will verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Carter said. “The last example I’ll cite is Pakistan, where nuclear weapons are entangled in a history of tension, and while they are not a threat to the United States directly, we work with Pakistan to ensure stability.”

Despite the changes since the end of the Cold War, the nature of deterrence has not changed, the secretary said.

“Even in 2016, deterrence still depends on perception — what potential adversaries see, and therefore believe — about our will and ability to act,” he said. “This means that as their perceptions shift, so must our strategy and actions.”

A large-scale nuclear attack is not likely, the secretary said. The most likely scenario is “the unwise resort to smaller but still unprecedentedly terrible attacks, for example by Russia or North Korea, to try to coerce a conventionally superior opponent to back off or abandon an ally during a crisis,” Carter said. “We cannot allow that to happen, which is why we’re working with our allies in both regions to innovate and operate in new ways that sustain deterrence and continue to preserve strategic stability.”

NATO is reexamining the nuclear strategy to integrate conventional and nuclear deterrence to deter Russia, he said.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, the United States engages in formal deterrence dialogues with its allies Japan and South Korea, Carter said, “to ensure we’re poised to address nuclear deterrence challenges in Asia.”

Carter said the U.S. is taking steps to ensure that its nuclear triad — bombers, ICBMS and ballistic missile submarines — do not become obsolete.

“We’re now beginning the process of correcting decades of under-investment in nuclear deterrence,” the secretary said.

The Pentagon has underfunded its nuclear deterrence enterprise since the end of the Cold War, Carter added.

“Over the last 25 years since then, we only made modest investments in basic sustainment and operations, about $15 billion a year,” he said. “And it turned out that wasn’t enough.”

The fiscal year 2017 budget request invests a total of $19 billion in the nuclear enterprise, Carter said. Over the next five years, he said, plans call for the department to spend $108 billion to sustain and recapitalize the nuclear force and associated strategic command, control, communications, and intelligence systems.

The budget also looks to modernization, the secretary said. Plans call for replacing old ICBMs with new ones that will be less expensive to maintain, keeping strategic bombers effective in the face of more advanced air defense systems, and building replacements for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, the secretary said.

“If we don’t replace these systems, quite simply they will age even more, and become unsafe, unreliable, and ineffective,” Carter said. “The fact is, most of our nuclear weapon delivery systems have already been extended decades beyond their original expected service lives. So it’s not a choice between replacing these platforms or keeping them. It’s really a choice between replacing them or losing them. That would mean losing confidence in our ability to deter, which we can’t afford in today’s volatile security environment.”

While these plans are expensive, they are only a small percentage of total defense spending, the secretary said.

“In the end, though, this is about maintaining the bedrock of our security,” Carter said. “And after too many years of not investing enough, it’s an investment that we as a nation have to make, because it’s critical to sustaining nuclear deterrence in the 21st century.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans learn to see differently through the camera lens

When Army Veteran Corrin Lee Mac heard of the Lebanon VA Medical Center and Lebanon Valley College’s The Seeing Lens group, she thought the idea was “far-fetched.” The 10-week therapeutic photography group is for Veterans in recovery. However, as Mac–pictured above–went through the program, she discovered that it worked for her. “It promotes mindfulness. Looking through the lens, this second in time, you are here in the moment.”

Veterans who participate in The Seeing Lens are issued a camera and textbook for duration of the program. Each week focuses on a different aspect of recovery and ties it to a photographic technique. For example, clarity and attention are linked with the concepts of aperture and depth of field.


Members of the inaugural group had their photos displayed in an exhibit at Lebanon Valley College and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will return to Lebanon VAMC later this year.

Graduates gathered at the college to talk about the impact the program and the exhibit had on their lives.

“Every Veteran can experience it in their own way, but something that would be in common between Veterans was the supportive nature of it, the non-judgmental atmosphere, ” said Army Veteran Robin Ann Pottoroff.

You are more thoughtful and creative.

“It makes you slow down and look at the world in a different way,” said Navy Veteran Mike Robertson. “You are more thoughtful and creative. It calms a racing brain.”

Lebanon VAMC recreation therapist Amy Cook, a founder of the program, was struck by “really seeing what the camera can do as a recovery tool. Once the Veteran picked up the camera, it was life-changing.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Project alumni suggested that other Veterans in recovery give The Seeing Lens a try.

“Give it a shot. It worked for me,” said Navy Veteran Patrick Dougherty. “And I was the most negative person, a naysayer. So if it helped me, it can pretty much help anyone.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

A leukemia survivor just became a Marine and it’s amazing

Deciding to be a Marine means you have to accept the challenges that you’ll have to face along the way. Earning that Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is no easy task. To become a Marine, you have to be willing to stare every challenge straight in the eye and say, “I got this.” That’s what it means to be a Marine. That is the very quality at the core of every person who becomes one. This is no exception for Michael Campofiori, one of the Corps’ newest Marines — and a survivor of leukemia.

According to the American Cancer Society, patients with childhood leukemia very rarely survive after five years. This disease is a monster of a challenge for anyone to overcome, and it’s a tragedy for any child to have to experience. That didn’t stop Michael Campofiori from wanting to become a Marine, despite being diagnosed at age 11.

This would be his first challenge on a path of many:


This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Michael Campofiori poses for a photo with Sgt. William Todd, a recruiter with Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach, and Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Falk, the Staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach, after swearing in to the Marine Corps on Aug. 16, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lcpl Jack Rigsby)

Recruitment

Joining the military is difficult when leukemia is a part of your medical history. There’s a special waiver for it, but Campofiori had trouble finding recruiters willing to take on the paperwork and help him realize his dream of becoming a Marine. The journey took him, a native of New Jersey, all the way to South Carolina.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Poolees with RSS Myrtle Beach posing with the recruiters.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lcpl Jack Rigsby)

The recruiters at Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach were willing to do the work necessary to get Campofiori in. They felt he had what it took — and they were absolutely right. Not only did his waiver go through, but Campofiori dominated as a Poolee, earning nearly a perfect score on the Initial Strength Test, the prerequisite fitness test for eligibility to join.

Of the maximum 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches, and 9:00 minute run-time, this badass got 29 pull-ups, 121 crunches, and a 9:18 run-time for the mile and a half. He wasn’t even a Marine before he was going above and beyond.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Michael Campofiori, a recruit with Platoon 2020, Company E, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, participates in the Day Movement Course as part of Basic Warrior Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Feb. 6, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jack A. E. Rigsby)

Recruit Training

Campofiori was sent to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina on Dec. 10, 2018. Of course, the challenge isn’t over there — boot camp is its own obstacle to overcome. It’s difficult in its own right. But, Campofiori was already slaying dragons.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

Welcome to the Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jack A. E. Rigsby)

On February 23, 2019, Michael Campofiori completed the Crucible and received his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, completing the transformation into a United States Marine. From battling leukemia to earning the title, Campofiori overcame every challenge that he ever had to face. Campofiori embodies the very spirit of being a Marine.

You can watch the video of him receiving his EGA here.

Articles

Mattis starts his review of US nuclear arsenal

Secretary of Defense James Mattis officially started the U.S. Department of Defense’s review of the country’s nuclear arsenal Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.


President Donald Trump directed Mattis to conduct a review after taking office in January. The full-scope review comes as concerns over the aging nuclear arsenal are growing in both the White House and Congress.

“In National Security Presidential Memorandum 1, dated Jan. 27, the president directed the secretary of defense to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, effective, reliable and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies,” said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White in a statement.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will lead the review in cooperation with “interagency partners,” according to White. A final report will be issued at the end of the year.

The review comes at a time when the U.S. is facing increased nuclear threats. North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program and has increased missile testing in the last two years. Russia is believed to have violated a decades-old nuclear agreement banning the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles. The Russian military is engaged in a military modernization program that includes both its strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.

A significant portion of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal is based on designs from the 1960s and 1970s. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength rated the U.S. nuclear arsenal “strong,” just one step down from “very strong,” but leaders within the military, the White House and Congress are concerned over the aging arsenal.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” said Trump tweeted in December.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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Syrian militia launches offensive to capture Raqqa

The US-led international coalition said the Syrian Democratic Forces militia launched a ground offensive to capture the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa, the US military said.


The SDF’s offensive began on June 6th after efforts to capture the city’s surrounding territory began in November.

The US-led anti-Islamic State international coalition called the Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve said the SDF has been “rapidly tightening the noose around the city since their daring air assault behind enemy lines in coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqah.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
DoD Photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson

US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the coalition, said the fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but victory will deliver a decisive blow to the idea of the Islamic State as a physical, ruling entity.

The offensive in Raqqa comes as Iraqi security forces near victory in west Mosul, though progress has been slow in the densely populated areas of Iraq’s second-largest city. The SDF’s assault also follows the attacks in London and Manchester for which theIslamic State, also known as ISIL, Daesh, and ISIS, took credit.

“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend said in a statement. “We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England. ISIS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq andSyria, but in our own homelands as well. This cannot stand.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers

The SDF has called on Raqqa residents to evacuate so they do not become trapped, are not killed by Islamic State snipers and are not used as human shields

The US-led coalition supports the SDF by providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, airstrikes and battlefield advice.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Chronically ill Gulf War vets still fighting for VA recognition 25 years on

On October 24, 2014, Glenn Stewart, an Army Desert Storm veteran, went to the emergency room at his local VA hospital to treat his third episode of temporary blindness.


“It was like a smear,” he said. “It was like a smear on a microscope slide, and eventually occupied a fourth of my field of vision. After fifteen minutes, it went away.”

Stewart had had another episode of temporary blindness just ten days earlier. He went into a Gulf War Illness chat group, looking for someone who might have experienced the same thing before, worried he might be facing a stroke.

 

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Glenn Stewart on his YouTube channel, Gulf War Syndrome

 

The VA medical center did blood tests and an FMRI, all of which came back inconclusive.

“The doctor told me there was no such thing as Gulf War Illness,” Glenn said. He instead offered Glenn a psychological evaluation.

“Making a statement like that is ignorance,” Glenn said. “There is a lot of research and lots of studies done on it.

“I wanted to slap him.”

Stewart is right; there is a lot of research supporting the existence of what he and many other Gulf war vets experience on a daily basis, 25 years after their war ended. They suffer without any acknowledgement from the government agency meant to take care of them.

 

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The wells were set on fire by Iraqi forces before they were ousted from the region by coalition force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David McLeod)

 

The illness is described as a multi-symptom, chronic condition experienced by 250,000 of the 700,000 U.S. troops deployed to the Persian Gulf region during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. They experience symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to various cancers. Fibromyalgia and bowel disorders are two big indicators of the disorder. Stewart suffers from both, but the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t recognize the illness by that name.

The VA calls their condition “chronic multisymptom illness” or “undiagnosed illness.” According to the VA’s Public Health page, the VA prefers “not to use the term ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ when referring to medically unexplained symptoms reported by Gulf War veterans because symptoms vary widely.”

The VA presumes that specific disabilities diagnosed in certain veterans were caused by their military service. If a veteran is diagnosed with a presumptive condition, the VA is forced assume the condition service-connected, then veteran is then entitled to medical or disability benefits associated with that diagnosis. Because the VA doesn’t use an umbrella term for Gulf War Illness, many veterans find themselves without compensation or connection for related illnesses that don’t have presumptive status.

Former VA epidemiologist Steven Coughlin resigned from the VA in 2012, citing serious ethical issues around the dissemination of false information about veteran health and withholding research about the link between nerve gas and Gulf War Illness.

 

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Dr. Steven Coughlin

“What I saw [at VA] was both embarrassing and astonishing. I couldn’t stay any longer,” Coughlin told the Daily Beast.

By 2014, the situation still hadn’t changed. Gulf War veterans already have presumptive status for a number of conditions, but the VA denied 80 percent of Gulf War Illness compensation claims, citing “inadequate and insufficient evidence” to indicate that the cancers and migraines they suffer from are service-related.

“There is no consistent evidence of a higher overall incidence of cancer in veterans who were deployed to the Gulf War than in non-deployed veterans,” Robert Jesse, then the VA’s acting undersecretary for health, wrote in a letter Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, who requested information on adding the increased incidence of brain cancer, lung cancer, and migraines in Gulf War veterans to the VA’s list of presumptive conditions.

Ron Brown, president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, told USA Today that the VA’s research contradicts the Institute of Medicine’s findings.

“What they’ve done is used the overall population of deployed veterans during Desert Storm,” he said. “If you use the whole population, it does not show an increase of cancers, but if you look at Khamisiyah, there are significant increases of cancers.”

Khamisiyah is the site of a munitions industrial center in Iraq, where demolition of conventional and chemical munitions just after the end of the 1991 Gulf War exposed as many as 100,000 service members to Sarin nerve gas. For those near Khamisiyah, the rate of brain cancer was was more than twice as high as unexposed veterans.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Demolition of Iraqi munitions at Khamisiyah munitions depot, March 1991. (photo by Jack Morgan)

Burning oil wells are believed to be the cause of increased lung cancer deaths, a rate 15% higher than those who did not serve in the 1991 Gulf War, is considered by the VA to be “inconclusive” because the VA did not know how many of the those afflicted were smokers.

The VA’s research not only contradicts the Institute of Medicine’s findings, it contradicts the VA’s own research on brain cancer. That study was backed by a similar one in the American Journal of Public Health. Furthermore, migraines and chronic fatigue were found in Gulf War veterans in a National Institute of Health study just one year before the 2014 ruling.

That same year, Georgetown University found the first physical traces of Gulf War Illness, evidence showing atrophy in the brainstem, which regulates heart rate. Another group showed atrophy in cortical regions adjacent to pain perception. This shows Gulf War veterans’ have abnormalities in the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain areas involved in the processing and perception of pain and fatigue.

“Our findings help explain and validate what these veterans have long said about their illness,” Rakib Rayhan, a Georgetown University researcher, said. The study’ lead researcher, Dr. James Baraniuk, added “Now investigators can move from subjective criteria to objective MRI and other criteria for diagnosis and to understand the brain pathology.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Smoke plumes from the Kuwaiti Oil Fires in 1991 as seen from space. (NASA photo)

While Georgetown’s findings are the latest evidence, studies as far back as 2003 found Khamisiyah veterans are at increased risk for hospitalization from circulatory diseases, specifically cardiac dysrhythmias.

In the face of what should be considered overwhelming evidence from multiple, separate studies and institutions, the VA still doesn’t recognize Gulf War Illness, so veterans with symptoms that don’t fall in the presumptive category are still denied treatment and compensation for their issues. That includes Glenn Stewart, who says his illness “robbed him of his life.” Stewart now runs a YouTube channel about his struggles with his condition and his fighting with the VA.

“You got a a whole bunch of veterans sick, in pain, and dying due to Gulf War Illness,” he said. “They feel that no one is going to help them and are losing hope. Some of these people will take their own lives. It is not that I will commit suicide or want to die, but I look forward to dying because it will end my daily pain and torture.”

Read our update on the progress researchers are making on Gulf War illness here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia is sending heavy naval firepower to the Mediterranean

The US and Russia have become engaged in an increasingly hot war of words over the warfare and suffering in Syria, and Russia was seen sending heavy naval firepower to the region around the same time it threatened to retaliate to any US strikes.


Russia has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad for years during his country’s seven-year-long civil war. Russia provides military support and airpower to help Assad cling to power as he fights off Islamist insurgents and a popular uprising in a war where his forces have reportedly killed the wide majority of the half-million now dead.

Also read: Russia needs more mercenaries to go fight in Syria

Russia agreed to remove Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in 2013, but international inspectors concluded in 2017 that Syria had used sophisticated chemical weapons in a massive attack on civilians.

The US responded with a naval strike that destroyed much of the airbase the Pentagon alleges carried out the attack. The next day, Russia vowed to retaliate if the US struck Syria, by destroying any missiles or launchers used.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Vladimir Putin with the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. (Photo from Russian government)

After verbally sparring with Russia at the UN, the US, on March 12, 2018, said in no uncertain terms that if Russia could not hold to the UN-backed ceasefire, as multiple reports indicate it had not, the US would strike Syria again.

On both March 13 and 14, 2018, Devrim Yaylali, the man behind TurkishNavy.net and the popular Bosphorus Naval News, spotted Russian Navy frigates transiting the Bosphorus Strait into the Mediterranean.

Related: Turkey vows to defiantly attack US allies in Syria

The frigates specialize in anti-submarine warfare, according to Yaylali, who told Business Insider that the deployments may or may not be routine, as sometimes Russian ships continue on past the Suez Canal.

But tensions between Russia and the West are peaking after Russia’s threats to fight back against the US in Syria and the UK accused the Russian state of carrying out a nerve agent attack on a former spy in the British countryside.

Sub hunting in the Mediterranean or routine deployment?

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Sailors load a Tomahawk cruise missile into the USS Michigan, a US Navy submarine capable of launching missiles while submerged. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason)

When the US attacked Syria as punishment for the chemical weapons attack in April 2017, it did so with Navy destroyers firing 59 cruise missiles.

The US also has submarines that can mount a similar attack, and if the US wanted to repeat the assault, it may be wiser to send a submerged vessel. A submarine would likely not create the obvious red flag of US destroyers returning to the shores where they once laid waste to a significant portion of Assad’s air force.

More: Why American submarines feared this Russian destroyer

But the US has plenty of options to strike Russia in Syria if they chose, including air power and ground systems.

Additionally, it’s standard practice for any military to move supporting platforms into an area where it bases troops, so Russia’s introduction of naval power into the Mediterranean may be simple protocol for protecting Russian servicemen in Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This castaway airman helped map the entire world

A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.


As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.

But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Airman 2nd Class Bob ‘Red’ Cunningham, 1374th Mapping and Charting Squadron, sits near his footlocker and reads a magazine during his six-month assignment on North Danger Island in 1956. The 22-year old radar operator and his three teammates lived in a tent and shared the tiny island in the South China Sea with a six-man Air Force radio relay station team. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.

The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.

It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.

Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.

Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.

“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”

Also Read: Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.

To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.

The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.

“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”

The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.

On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.

“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Cunningham pumps water from an old well on North Danger Island in 1956. The Airmen only used this for laundry and washing. Drinking water was delivered in 55-gallon barrels. (Courtesy photo Bob Cunningham)

But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.

A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.

Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.

“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”

Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.

“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”

The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.

Read Also: That time Americans demanded the Coast Guard rescue the cast of Gilligan’s Island

They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.

Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.

That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.

For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.

“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Cunningham points to the camp on ‘North Danger Island’ where he lived and worked as a radar operator for six months in 1956 during an Air Force project mapping the earth. (Air Force photo by Josh Turner)

In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.

Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.

“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”

Articles

Watch a flying tour of Britain’s new aircraft carrier

Great Britain once had the most powerful Navy in the world, but since 2010, they haven’t had a single aircraft carrier.


That changed earlier this week.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth — the largest and most powerful carrier the Royal Navy has ever built — set sail on June 26 for the first time.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Photo courtesy of the Royal Navy.

With a price tag of about $3.8 billion, it’s also Britain’s most expensive ship ever built. Still, the juice might be worth the squeeze.

“I think there are very few capabilities, by any country, that are as symbolic as a carrier strike capability,” commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd told reporters on June 26. “These are visible symbols of power and power projection.”

Manned by a crew of 1,000 sailors, the ship is 919-feet long, weighs 65,000 tons, and can hold 40 jets.

Check out the aerial footage of the ship:

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch F-15s make insane turns through the UK’s ‘Mach Loop’

The “Mach Loop” in northwest Wales provides a perfect vantage point to watch fighter jets and other aircraft blitz through steep-sided valleys at almost eye level.


Amateur photographer Elwyn Roberts caught what appear to be U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath — home to the U.S. Air Force in Europe’s only F-15 fighter wing — making some thunderous passes through the Loop’s snow-capped mountains.

Aviation enthusiasts and photographers flock to the area, nicknamed the Mach Loop after the town at the southern end of the circuit, Machynlleth, where roughly 1,000-meter-tall mountains make it possible for all kinds of aircraft to make low-level passes.

 

 

The Loop, officially called Low Flying Area 7, is one of several sites in the U.K. where aircraft can make passes at altitudes as low as 250 feet.

Fighters and other aircraft are a regular sight.

In January 2018, Roberts caught a pair of C-130J Hercules zipping through the circuit — their wings flexing in strong winds. In August, he filmed a trio of F-15s roaring through as observers looked on.

The Mach Loop had several first-time encounters with U.S. aircraft in 2017.

Also Read: Watch Air Force F-15s intercept Russian Navy jets

In April 2017, F-22 Raptors, a stealthy 5th generation fighter that is rarely deployed overseas, were on the scene making passes through the Welsh mountains.

That was followed in May 2017 by F-35As from Hill Air Force Base in Utah passing through for the first time while deployed to Europe.

In August 2017, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III lumbered through for several low-level passes, its wings briefly trailing condensation as it raced by photographers.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Marine vet won a $63 million judgement for his imprisonment in Iran

A U.S. judge has ordered Iran’s government to pay $63.5 million to a former U.S. Marine who was held in Iranian jails for more than four years.


U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle of Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of 33-year-old Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American, after Iran failed to respond to the complaint.

Hekmati was detained in August 2011 after he went to Iran to visit family and spend time with an ailing grandmother.

This female vet is one of history’s most decorated combat photographers
Amir Hekmati with his siblings and parents several years after his parents resettled into the United States. (Image Facebook)

He was arrested on espionage charges and sentenced to death. The sentence was later overturned by Iran’s Supreme Court and he was instead given a 10-year sentence.

He was freed in January 2016 as part of a prisoner swap along with four other American prisoners after Washington granted clemency to seven Iranians.

Hekmati filed suit in May 2016, claiming he was tortured and tricked into providing a false confession while held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

It is uncertain if the U.S.-born Hekmati will actually receive any of the money, but his attorney, Scott Gilbert, said the family was pleased with the decision and “will do everything in our power to ensure that Amir’s claim is paid in full.”

Freed along with Hekmati was Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and two other Iranian-Americans in exchange for pardons or charges being dropped against the seven Iranians.

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