US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Oct. 20 there is a place for moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s government as long as they renounce violence and terrorism and commit to stability. He also delivered a blunt warning to neighboring Pakistan, insisting Islamabad must step up action against terrorist groups that have found safehaven within its borders.
Speaking on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan where he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other senior officials at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, Tillerson said the Taliban must understand that they will never win a military victory and should prepare to negotiate with the government.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Photo from US Department of State.
“Clearly, we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,” Tillerson told a small group of reporters allowed to accompany him from the Qatari capital of Doha. “And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever. So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government.”
“There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence and being committed to a stable, prosperous Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson outlined to Ghani and Abdullah the Trump administration’s new South Asia policy, which the president rolled out last month and views the region through a lens that includes Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India, both of which he will visit later this week. The approach is heavy on combatting and beating extremist groups in all three countries.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.
“We also want to work with regional partners to ensure that there are no threats in the region,” he said. “This is very much a regional effort as you saw. It was rolled out in the strategy itself, demanding that others deny safehaven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan as well.”
Tillerson will visit Islamabad on Oct. 21 and said he would be telling Pakistani officials that their cooperation in fighting extremists and driving them from hideouts on their territory is imperative to a good relationship with the US.
“It will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward for both creating opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan but also ensuring a stable future Pakistan,” he said. ” Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safehaven inside of Pakistan. So we want to work closely Pakistan to create a more stable and secure Pakistan as well.”
The administration’s strategy for South Asia envisions it as part of what Tillerson referred to in a speech last week as Indian-Pacific Ocean platform, anchored by four democracies: India, Australia, Japan, and the United States. The US is placing high hopes on India’s contributions in South Asia, especially in Afghanistan where Tillerson said New Delhi could have significant influence and presence by creating jobs and “the right environment for the future of Afghanistan.”
Gen. John Nicholson. Photo from Dept of Defense.
Tillerson also met at Bagram with senior members of the US military contingent, including Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan. He underscored the ongoing US commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan but stressed it is “conditions based,” meaning that the government must meet certain benchmarks. He praised Ghani for his efforts to curb corruption and prepare for the country parliamentary elections next year.
“It is imperative in the end that we are denying safehaven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this world,” Tillerson said.
He arrived in Afghanistan cloaked in secrecy and under heavy security. He had slipped out of Qatar in the pre-dawn hours and flew a gray C-17 military plane to Bagram, jettisoning his public schedule, which had him meeting with staffers at the US Embassy in Doha.
Tillerson, a one-time private pilot, rode in the cockpit wearing a headset and chatting with the crew as the plane took off from the Al-Udeid Air Base outside Doha.
A US Army Green Beret was found strangled to death in his hotel in Bamako, Mali.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating two Navy SEALs who were flown out of the country just after the killing and placed on administrative leave.
After Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar of the US Army’s elite Special Forces turned up dead at his hotel in Bamako, Mali, military criminal authorities launched an investigation into two Navy SEALs who were flown out of the country just after the death, and placed on “administrative leave,” according to The New York Times.
Melgar, who was found dead on June 4, belonged to the same unit that lost four soldiers in an ambush in Niger earlier in October. The SEALs in question belonged to SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Military medical examiners ruled Melgar’s death “a homicide by asphyxiation,” and the two SEALs who were staying at the same hotel have gone from being referred to as “witnesses” to “persons of interest,” according to the Times.
Melgar, and the SEALs in question, worked in Mali gathering intelligence and helping local forces train and conduct counterterrorism missions, according to the Times.
Outside of tragic mistakes and friendly fire episodes, US servicemembers rarely kill each other, prompting wild speculation about why the SEALs may have acted against Melgar. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is on the case.
Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Photo: C.J. Lin, Stars and Stripes
In politics, business, advocacy, and media, there are veterans on the American landscape who have the potential to make a big difference in the months ahead. Some of them are well-known; many of them are not (but should be).
The editors of We Are The Mighty looked across the community and created a diverse list of veterans who continue to serve in a wide variety of high-impact ways. Here are The Mighty 25:
WILLIAM MCNULTY — Managing Director, Team Rubicon Global
William McNulty is a former Marine infantryman who later transitioned into the intelligence community. In 2010 he assumed a new mission with what would eventually become Team Rubicon, a non-profit disaster relief organization he co-founded with fellow Marine Jake Wood.
Since then, Team Rubicon has grown considerably. The permanent staff now oversees some 16,000 volunteers who deploy wherever disaster strikes. Late this year, McNulty stepped back from the main organization to focus on an ambitious project to take TR international.
In 2015, with McNulty now managing director of Team Rubicon Global, look for greater impact from the five-year-old organization as it expands to support relief efforts worldwide. This franchise approach will model Team Rubicon’s successes with American veterans and allow foreign military vets to continue to serve in their communities.
DON FAUL — Director of Operations, Pinterest
Annapolis grad and former Marine Don Faul got to his new job by way of Google and Facebook, a great training track for the task he faces as Pinterest’s head of Operations.
Faul is already making waves with his innovative approach to the site’s ad units, substituting the standard way of charging an advertiser per one thousand impressions for a model that charges by the amount visitors actually click on an ad – a huge benefit for the small businesses that frequent Pinterest. Faul’s leadership could make a big difference in Pinterest’s performance, and beyond that, in how social media is monetized next year and beyond.
JONI ERNST — Senator from Iowa
A day after winning the most contested Senate race in the country — a race punctuated by ads that showcased her talking about castrating cows — Maj. Joni Ernst showed up for duty with the Iowa National Guard where she’s served since 1993.
She now arrives in D.C. as the only female combat veteran in the Senate, and the Republican side of the aisle is ready to use that for all it’s worth. “It’s really good for our National Defense,” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley told National Review Online, “having [Ernst serve] in the Senate will be good for all debate on national security.”
DAN BRILLMAN — Co-founder, Unite US
Along with co-founder and West Point grad Taylor Justice, Air Force reservist and tanker pilot Dan Brillman has figured out a way to leverage web technology to allow eligible parties to effectively navigate the “Sea of Good Will” — the 40,000 organizations dedicated to helping veterans that have historically presented a challenge because of their sheer number and dizzying overlap.
Brillman created Unite US, a website that uses “interactive, proximity-mapping technology” to match vets to the services they need – sort of like Yelp for the military dot-org ecosystem. If you haven’t used UniteUS.com yet, by the end of 2015 you will have.
SETH MOULTON — Congressman from Massachusetts
Seth Moulton’s reluctant entry into politics was spurred primarily by his experiences as a Marine across four tours during the Iraq War – a war he didn’t believe in. After getting his MBA at Harvard and working for a start-up for a while, he decided to run for Congress as a Democrat in Massachusetts sixth district.
He ultimately won the election after unseating a longstanding incumbent during the primary. The same work ethic, intelligence, and moxie that made him a Gen. Petraeus acolyte should serve him well on the Hill. If anyone has the pedigree and problem solving skills to get something done from across the aisle in a Republican-majority Congress, it’s Moulton.
BRIAN ADAM JONES — Editor-in-Chief, Task & Purpose
After an award-winning career as a Marine Corps combat correspondent, Brian Adam Jones honed his journalism chops at Business Insider, working as a reporting intern for the military section.
This year he joined (and helped launch) the HirePurpose blog “Task Purpose” as editor-in-chief, and in short order his content choices and writing helped that website become a breakout property among a host of emerging military-affinity destinations.
And he’s just getting started; Jones is currently working on a political science degree at Columbia in addition to his gig at Task Purpose. Make it a point to find his byline in 2015.
PATRICK MURPHY — Host of MSNBC’s “Taking the Hill”
Patrick Murphy was the first Iraq War vet to be elected to Congress in 2007, but his political career was short-circuited in 2011 when the Tea Party helped orchestrate his defeat in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, primarily because of his work in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Murphy fell back into legal work until he was approached to host a new show on MSNBC. “Taking the Hill” is the only broadcast network program dedicated to military issues and veteran advocacy, and the show was just picked up for a second season. Look for bigger impact in 2015 as Murphy continues to find his voice as a host and gains more creative control over program topics.
PHIL KLAY — Author of “Redeployment”
The New Yorker said this about Army vet Phil Klay’s debut Redeployment: “The best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America’s recent wars . . . Klay’s fiction peels back every pretty falsehood and self-delusion in the encounter between veterans and the people for whom they supposedly fought.”
This year Klay was awarded National Book Award for Fiction — the first Iraq war veteran do so — and he was also named a National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35′ honoree. Whenever he puts pen to paper going forward, his will be an important and credible voice on behalf of those who served during our most recent wars.
TOM COTTON — Congressman from Arkansas
Tom Cotton first came to the attention of conservatives when he wrote The New York Times a nastygram from the Iraq War because of a story the paper published that he believed hazarded the safety of his troops. Since that time he’s been shaped into a new breed of veteran politician: an anti-progressive in spite of his Harvard degree, one who’s Tea Party-friendly but whose views are shaped as much by reason as ideology.
A recent Atlantic Monthly article put it this way: “He unites the factions of the Republican civil war: The establishment loves his background, while the Tea Party loves his ideological purity.” That combo could be used to good effect – the kind that actually causes outcomes – as he continues to represent the people of Arkansas’ 4th District next year.
TM GIBBONS-NEFF — Reporter, The Washington Post
While working toward his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, former Marine and Afghan War vet T.M. Gibbons-Neff has emerged as a high-impact writer with bylines in vaunted publications like The New York Times andThe Washington Post.
As an intern with The Post, Neff landed a significant scoop earlier this year with a story that revealed that Maj. Doug Zembiec, the “lion of Fallujah” who was killed in 2007, was actually working for the CIA at the time.
Gibbons-Neff is a guy to watch in that he shows a deft hand by leveraging his warfighting experience while remaining an objective journalist — a skill few possess who deign to cover the topics surrounding national security.
TULSI GABBARD — Congresswoman from Hawaii
Tulsi Gabbard deployed to Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard in 2004, and eight years later she was elected to represent Hawaii’s second congressional district. With a diverse background — she’s just 33, thereby one of just a handful of millennials in the House — and the first member of the Hindu faith to be elected to Congress. She’s also just one of two female combat veterans in office.
“I saw in Congress we had fewer veterans serving than had ever served before in our nation’s history and you have people making very important decisions about where and when our troops go into battle,” Gabbard told Yahoo News. As the Obama Administration continues to struggle with how to best counter threats like ISIS, watch how Gabbard leverages her war experience going forward.
TODD CONNOR — Founder, The Bunker
After earning his MBA, Navy veteran Todd Connor started to miss military life while working as a consultant, so he approached Chicago-based tech incubator 1871 with the idea of creating an effort dedicated to veterans.
The result was “The Bunker,” a group of entrepreneurs helping vets avoid the pitfalls of tech start-up life as they struggle to get their businesses off the ground – sort of like a friendlier version of the TV show “Shark Tank.” Connor has a vision of national dominance, and “The Bunker” detachments have sprouted up from Boston to Austin to Los Angeles.
ANU BHAGWATI — Founder, Service Women’s Action Network
Anu Bhagwati’s path to becoming an advocate on behalf of female service members started during her time in the Marine Corps where she weathered myriad examples of sexual harassment and found no quarter within the system designed to protect her and then found no justice when she attempted to go around it.
She channeled her frustration and anger into action in the form of the Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit organization that works to end discrimination, harassment and assault in the military. In short order Bhagwati’s clear voice and unflinching approach to SWAN’s mission has influenced policies at the VA and legislation on Capitol Hill. Look for her to keep the pressure up into the new year.
OWEN WEST — Director, Goldman-Sachs Veterans Network
Business Insider labeled Owen West as “the most badass banker on Wall Street” a couple of years ago, and his efforts since then have done nothing but reinforce that title.
West left his lucrative job at Goldman-Sachs three times to serve during the Iraq War. He defines “Renaissance Man”: Novelist and historian; triathlete, world traveler, and philanthropist. But perhaps most importantly, his day job as the director of Goldman-Sachs’ veterans network underwrites the impact of that program and ensures this generation of warfighters have a place in the halls of power on the south end of Manhattan.
DAWN HALFAKER — Board Chairwoman, Wounded Warrior Project
Dawn Halfaker was serving as a military police officer when she lost her right arm in an ambush in Iraq in 2004. Her employment struggles after being medically retired from the Army motivated her to start Halfaker and Associates, a consultant firm that specializes in government tech solutions.
She’s built the business with an eye on veteran hiring, and, in turn, used the lessons learned as a board member for the Wounded Warrior Project, specifically with WWP’s “Warriors to Work” employment program. “A lot of business leaders say they want to hire veterans, but don’t know ultimately how they can bring veterans in and empower them to be successful, given the cultural differences of the military,” Halfaker told The Huffington Post. Look for her to continue bridging that cultural divide in 2015.
ANTHONY NOTO — Chief Financial Officer, Twitter
Army vet Anthony Noto was named Twitter’s CFO this summer after shepherding the social media giant through its IPO, and he’ll need to channel the aggressiveness he used as a football player at West Point as the company attempts to, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “transform its mainstream presence into widespread adoption.”
Noto’s job this year is to diminish investor skepticism by growing Twitter’s user base beyond its already gigantic footprint – a suitable challenge for a former Ranger who honed his business chops at Goldman-Sachs and the NFL.
PAUL RIECKHOFF — Founder, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America marked a decade of existence in 2014, and the organization is showing no signs of slowing down going into next year. Under the leadership of the well-networked and media-savvy founder Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA championed the Clay Hunt SAV Act – legislation designed to combat the veteran suicide rate – at the end of the year, although the bill’s passage was singularly impeded by Sen. Tom Coburn.
As military vets continue to take their own lives at a rate of 22 per day, don’t expect Rieckhoff to give up on this issue in 2015.
GUY FILIPPILLINI — Co-founder and CEO, The Commit Foundation
Former Army intel officer Guy Filippellini co-founded The Commit Foundation to address what he saw as a fundamental flaw in veteran career transition programs he’d seen: One-size-fits-all approaches are largely ineffective.
The Commit Foundation’s mission statement is at once lofty and matter-of-fact: “[The foundation] creates serendipity for veterans by fostering mentorship, extending and growing professional networks, promoting familiar camaraderie, and setting the stage for inspiring moments.”
The foundation’s approach is different than most in that it’s focused on what Filippellini calls “small touch high impact efforts,” which means they focus on small numbers of veterans at a time and give each “sustained attention.” The veteran unemployment problem isn’t going away next year, but Filippellini’s foundation is poised to lessen it.
JOHN MCCAIN — Senator from Arizona, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Senator John McCain returned to the spotlight at the end of 2014 when the Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA enhanced interrogation techniques hit the streets. “[The CIA] stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good,” he said on the senate floor.
McCain also took over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee this year, which could be sporty considering his criticism of wasteful spending and his currently rocky relationship with the Pentagon. With his unique ability as a Hill provocateur, 2015 could be an exceptionally bad year for weapons programs that are over budget and behind schedule.
ROBERT MCDONALD — Secretary of the Veterans Administration
Former Army Ranger Robert McDonald took the reins of the VA on the backside of a massive scandal that revealed administrative ineptitude at the agency had led to the deaths of more than 40 veterans.
McDonald was brought aboard primarily because of his experience as CEO of Proctor and Gamble, but also because he has more charisma than his predecessor, the phlegmatic Eric Shinseki. McDonald has already been more visible than Shinseki was, threatening to fire large numbers of entrenched bureaucrats and even making his cell phone number public. As more veterans transition to VA care next year, the pressure is on the new secretary to improve the way the agency has performed overall since 9-11.
JASON MANGONE — Director, The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project
The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project “envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service — a service year — is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American,”according to their website. Jason Mangone is a former Marine Corps infantry officer and the director of the project.
Although he served three tours in Iraq, he is quick to point out that he never saw actual combat and that service is not about that. “While those who bear the costs of battle carry a heavier burden, the rest of us can still rightly say we’ve served our country,” Mangone writes at The Huffington Post. “Serving my country means that I gave up the normal progression of my life — high school, college, work — to do something whose end was civic. The same could be said for the veterans of many other types of national service.”
In an era where the social contract is increasingly challenged by diverging political outlooks, economic circumstances, and cultural backgrounds, Mangone’s effort in leading the Franklin Project may ultimately design the road map toward preserving our national identity.
MAT BEST — Founder, Article 15 Clothing Company
Though Mat Best did five combat tours to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, he’s best known for his collection of hilarious videos on YouTube. He’s doing something right: His videos that poke fun at military life have been viewed a whopping 13 million+ times.
Besides his videos, he’s also written on important topics like PTSD. Best is also the founder and president of Article 15 Clothing, a successful business selling everything from t-shirts to patches to branded coffee. While 2014 has been a huge year for the company, next year looks to be even better. Article 15 is launching their own whiskey brand and the team is scheduled to appear in major movies outside of YouTube.
TIM KENNEDY — MMA Fighter
Tim Kennedy is many things: Special Forces sniper, YouTube video star, and philanthropist. As if that weren’t enough, his main gig these days is a professional mixed martial arts fighter in the UFC.
Fighting since 2001, the 35-year-old Kennedy now has an 18-5-0 record in the UFC. In 2014, he had two major fights: a dominant win against Michael Bisping, and a controversial loss against Yoel Romero. (Kennedy maintains Romero cheated during the fight by sitting on his stool an extra 30 seconds before the final round).
Look for Kennedy to continue his rise in the UFC next year. Also keep an eye out for more of his hilarious videos, which are usually put together by Ranger Up.
MAXIMILIAN URIARTE — Creator, “Terminal Lance”
In 2010, then-Marine Lance Cpl. Max Uriarte launched “Terminal Lance,” a web comic that captures the grunt-level view of life in the Corps. Drawing on his time in the service — with two deployments to Iraq — Uriarte runs a 300,000+ fan-strong Facebook empire that drives readers to his site where he posts two new comics each week.
Now four years old, the strip has matured into a must-read for military personnel, while also making Uriarte a celebrity among Marines. His Terminal Lance brand helped him fund a successful Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel he’s working on, which brought in more than 0,000. While he works on the novel — working title “The White Donkey” –Max also has plans to move into animation next year.
JAS BOOTHE — Founder, Final Salute
Jas Boothe was a captain who’d been in the Army for 13 years when she was hit with a double whammy: She found out she had cancer and her home in New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The single mother was suddenly homeless and unemployed. As she fought for her family and her dignity, she discovered there were many other female veterans suffering the same plight. She founded Final Salute to address the problem, and she created the Ms. Vet America event (don’t call it a “pageant”) to bring visibility to the organization. Look for more from Boothe and the Ms. Vet America event in 2015.
Hundreds of people gathered in a South Georgia Medical Center lobby to honor a 93-year-old World War II hero.
George Aigen was bestowed the highest honor in France: induction into the French Legion of Honor as a knight, or chevalier, April 11, 2019, in Valdosta, Ga.
“More than 70 years ago, George Aigen risked his young life for the freedom of France and Europe,” said Louis de Corail, Consul General of France in Atlanta, who presented Aigen with the medal.
George Aigen enters his pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
“France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to the [United States]. We are now decades away from World War II and yet we still pay homage to veterans, the legacy of their courage and the fight for freedom in a time darkness and despicable ideologies came to power in Europe.”
Matt Flumerfelt plays the French and United States national anthem and during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
In recent years, France made a special provision to honor all American veterans who risked their lives on French soil from June 6, 1944 to May 8, 1945, Aigen being one of them.
Veterans stand for the national anthem during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
In April 1945, as a 19-year-old Army corporal, Aigen fought alongside other soldiers in 1269th Combat Engineers Company B and was part of the group who liberated Dachau, the first concentration camp built by the Nazis in 1933.
Judy Hathcock, left, stands for the national anthem during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
In a previously recorded video interview, Aigen recounted what happened as they approached Dachau, “As I approached the gate, I was a 19-year-old corporal with a rifle in my hand. When we went up to the gate there was hellish chaos.
Joyce Aigen, left, and her daughter Judy Hathcock, stand for the national anthem, during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
“Everybody was looking for help, they were starving and in very bad shape. We brought in medical help, food and water, and helped as many as we could. Coming face-to-face with it, seeing it eye-to-eye … it was hell on earth. I always said the war was hell, but this is one step further.”
George Aigen listens to remarks during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
During the ceremony, the crowd reflected on the heroic and selfless actions of Aigen and all of the veterans who fought in the war and had a hand in the liberation of France.
George Aigen salutes everyone in attendance at his pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
There are approximately 93,000 current Legion of Honor recipients, and for American veterans to qualify, they must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France in Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.
Joyce Aigen, and her daughter Judy Hathcock, embrace during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
Although Aigen’s actions qualified for the Legion of Honor, the process was not automatic. At an after-hours work event in 2016, Aigen and his wife Joyce met Dr. Christine LeClerc-Sherling, a local college professor, who submitted the application.
Joyce Aigen gives remakrs during a pinning ceremony honoring her husband George Aigen.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
Within five days, the application was sent to the local consulate. From there, the two year journey began with the application traveling to the embassy in Washington D.C. then to Paris to be vetted. Ultimately, the official decree was signed by the President of the Republic of France, March 15, 2019.
George Aigen, and his daughter Judy Hathcock, embrace during a pinning ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Janiqua P. Robinson)
“At the time we thought it would be a four to 10-month process, but I can tell you that after these years, me and family are the most blessed from that wait,” LeClerc-Sherling said. “Being around George and Joyce has influenced my family so much. It made me a better citizen, a more committed family member and definitely a more loyal friend.
“George and Joyce are absolutely everything that is right with this world.”
One of the best things about the military is its subculture and sense of humor. If you give any group in the military any leeway at all in regard to uniform wear, even the slightest bit, the chances are good that they’ll make jokes out of it. One such tradition is the morale patch. Usually worn during deployments and on aircrew, the morale patch is worn solely by the designation of a unit commander. They often make fun of some of the worst, most boring, or most defining aspects of a career field.
Recently, some Naval aviators got into hot water by wearing patches that may have been a little too close to political.
It’s not as if this is the military’s first Trump joke.
Many of the best morale patches often have a pop culture element to them. Some of them may have some kind of inside joke, or technical jargon. In the patch above, for example, a UARRSI is part of an aircraft’s in-flight refueling apparatus, specifically on the receiving end.
Unfortunately for the Navy aircrew sporting the red patch and the “Make (blank) Great Again” joke, using an image of the President’s 2016 campaign slogan might be a little too political for the Navy’s top brass, with or without the “p*ssy” joke the Air Force used in the second patch above. No matter what the reason, the military is increasingly concerned about U.S. troops and their acts of political affiliation in uniform.
Trump signed signature red “MAGA” hats for deployed troops during a New Years visit in 2018. What concerned brass then was that the White House didn’t distribute the hats, troops already brought them.
The Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice states “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.” This expressed line may be the cause of the Navy’s ire with the red Trump aircrew patch.
It’s possible that the aircrews were making a political statement, but it’s much more likely that the reference to the President and his 2016 campaign slogan is a pop culture one. Trump’s revival of the old 1980 Reagan election theme has permeated American culture since Trump adopted it and made it his own. Even the President’s detractors use some variation of the MAGA line to insult the President and his policies.
The problem is this time, U.S. troops were seen by members of the media sporting the patches during an official Trump visit to the USS Wasp in Tokyo Bay. The image of troops wearing the patch went viral, and people who don’t seem to know about the morale patch tradition called it “more than patriotism” and “inappropriate.”
President Trump delivers a Memorial Day speech aboard the USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Shorter)
The Navy downplayed the patches officially, calling them “old news” but acknowledged it was conducting an inquiry to determine if the move was an overtly political act.
On December 1st of 2020, Fort Benning launched a new type of platform. One where soldiers could bring their best ideas to the table and have them heard by the higher-ups. Known as the Maneuver Innovation Challenge, or MIC, the goal was to bring in great ideas that could help all involved, from soldiers, to the base as a whole, and the programs that help it run. It was put into action by Major General Patrick J. Donahoe, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning.
Inspired in part by the TV show, Shark Tank, where budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors, the MIC created a way for small voices to be heard in a big way. Maj. Gen. Donahoe served as a judge, along with Col. Matthew Scalia, Sgt. 1st Class Kendall Willridge, Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph McAuliffe, Dr. Jay Brimstin and Capt. Joseph Barnes.
The project was announced through a series of videos and social media posts, alerting people to sign up with their idea.
“The best ideas are not going to come from some old, staid general. They’re gonna come from some young sergeant figuring out the next great solution. So join us in the Maneuver Innovation Program, and let’s figure out the next big idea,” – Donahoe said.
The MIP works like this: between Dec. 1st and Feb. 1, 2021, soldiers and civilians could pitch their ideas to the cause. Using an online platform, folks submitted their best ideas to the powers that be. A total of 23 ideas were collected online, ranging from functional apps, to improving tank camouflaging, to programs to help divorced, dual military couples.
The team narrowed the ideas to four finalists, which were pitched live to judges on Feb. 4th. Those making the cut earned prizes in their own right, including:
• A four-day pass.
• Sitting as Donahoe’s guest(s) for a luncheon at MCoE headquarters.
• Official backing for a training course of their choice at Fort Benning, if enrollment qualifications are met.
After the competition, a video was released on Twitter with the hashtag #shootmoveinnovate, announcing that the final four ideas would be put into action by integrating with facilities through TRADOC, Army Training and Doctrine Command, and innovation program resources.
The ideas included: streamlining policies for on-post housing, an app for maintaining digital accountability of soldiers during holiday block leave, and multiple variations for digital options for in/out-processing.
“They’re all winners, Donahoe said. “Clearly when you look at it, all good ideas.”
When a Taliban murder-suicide bomber killed two American troops with the 82nd Airborne Division, it particularly hit hard for one family. According to an Army Times report, the solider, Specialist Chris Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina, left behind a wife, Britt, who was expecting their first child.
The Defense Department reported that the August 2 attack that killed Spc. Harris also killed Sgt. Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana ,and wounded four other troops. Both Harris and Hunter were with the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Bragg.
An online fund-raiser was launched on Aug. 3 on the crowd-funding site GoFundMe.com to help Britt keep a handle on bills and other expenses. As of 9:53 AM Eastern time on Aug. 4, the online fundraiser for Mrs. Harris had raised $35,570 from 782 donors.
The online fundraiser is not the only fundraiser on the way for Britt and her unborn child. According to the VA website, Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance offers a $400,000 death benefit for a monthly premium of $29.00.
While those benefits will kick in, words from the GoFundMe page still apply: “During this time, money should be the absolute least important thing on [Britt’s] mind. If you feel it in your heart to donate to this cause, it would be kindly appreciated.”
Imagine a 150-kiloton nuclear bomb exploded in the city closest to you.
Do you know how the city, its surrounding region, and its inhabitants would be affected? If you can’t think of much more than “a lot of people would die,” you’re not alone.
“We live in a world where nuclear weapons issues are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis, yet most people still have a very bad sense of what an exploding nuclear weapon can actually do,” Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology, wrote on his website, NuclearSecrecy.org.
To illustrate that, Nukemap lets you build a hypothetical nuclear bomb and drop it anywhere on Earth. The software uses declassified equations and models about nuclear weapons and their effects — fireball size, air-blast radius, radiation zones, and more — to crunch the numbers, then renders the results as graphics inside Google Maps.
The first version of Wellerstein’s tool came out in February 2012, but he upgraded it to version 2.5 this month. Users thus far have set off more than 124 million explosions in Nukemap.
Nukemap 2.5’s new features let you see where a cloud of radioactive fallout might drift based on local weather conditions. Fallout refers to the dirt and debris that get sucked up by a nuclear blast, irradiated to dangerous levels, pushed into the atmosphere, and sprinkled over great distances. The updated tool also lets you export your scenarios, load them into mapping software like Google Earth, and explore them in 3D.
“I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different sizes of nuclear weapons change the results,” Wellerstein wrote on his site.
Picking a bomb and a target
We decided to test Nukemap 2.5 using its preset for the North Korean government’s underground test blast on September 3.
Some experts think that device, perhaps a thermonuclear bomb, yielded an explosion of roughly 150 kilotons’ worth of TNT. This was the country’s most powerful nuclear explosion to date — about 10 times as strong as the Hiroshima bomb blast of 1945, which caused some 150,000 casualties.
The main effects of the nuclear blast display as four colored zones:
Fireball (0.56 miles wide): In the area closest to the bomb’s detonation site, flames incinerate most buildings, objects, and people.
Radiation (1.24 miles wide): A nuclear bomb’s gamma and other radiation are so intense in this zone that 50% or more of people die within “several hours to several weeks,” according to Nukemap.
Air blast (4.64 miles wide): This shows a blast area of 5 pounds per square inch, which is powerful enough to collapse most residential buildings and rupture eardrums. “Injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread,” Nukemap says.
Thermal radiation (6.54 miles wide): This region is flooded with skin-scorching ultraviolet light, burning anyone within view of the blast. “Third-degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves,” Nukemap says. “They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation.”
Clicking the “radioactive fallout” option didn’t produce any exposure zones for this hypothetical explosion. A note toward the bottom of our Nukemap results explained: “Your choice of burst height is too high to produce significant local fallout.”
Casualties and radioactive-fallout zones
When we switched the height to “surface burst,” a very different picture emerged: The thermal and air-blast zones shrank, but the fireball nearly doubled in area, and the radiation zone nearly tripled.
We also enabled the new radioactive-fallout settings based on local weather. And to see the human effects, we ticked the “casualties” option, too.
Luckily, local winds in this hypothetical scenario were moving west-southwest, blowing most radioactive fallout into the Pacific Ocean. If a person were to stand outside in a 100-rad-per-hour zone for four hours, they would get 400 rads of radiation exposure, which is enough to kill 50% of people by acute radiation syndrome.
According to Nukemap’s casualty estimator, however, this blast would still kill about 130,000 people and injure 280,000 over the next 24 hours. The tool says this does not include radioactive-fallout effects, among other caveats.
“Modeling casualties from a nuclear attack is difficult,” it says. “These numbers should be seen as evocative, not definitive.”
Google Earth’s view
We were eager to try the export feature, but it appears to need some work.
For example, the fallout zone appeared in an area different from the in-browser calculation — almost due south of San Francisco, instead of west-southwest.
But it was still useful — in a gut-wrenching way — to see the size of a nuclear fireball (the yellow half-dome in the image below) in 3D as it related to a major city, engulfing entire neighborhoods.
Wellerstein and others at Stevens Institute of Technology — based in Hoboken, New Jersey — are working on a related project, called Reinventing Civil Defense, which aims to “develop new communication strategies regarding nuclear risk that have high potential to resonate with a public audience.” The project was awarded a $500,000 grant and is expected to debut in 2019.
U.S., NATO ally, and partner paratroopers participated in the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company’s Operation Toy Drop Dec. 11-14, 2018.
Operation Toy Drop is an annual multi-national training event. It entails sharing airborne operations, tactics, techniques and procedures, strengthening relationships with local communities and with NATO allies and partners as well as developing interoperability.
“It’s so much fun seeing other nations get in on our training and us to get on their training to see how they operate with these airborne operations, to see how we operate,” said Sgt. Kyle D. Shields, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade.
“All of us use different parachute systems across the different militaries, so it’s just trying to get everybody synced up in one parachute system and make sure everybody understands that every system has a risk factor and different ways you have to steer it, fly it and turn it,” Shields said.
Holiday cheer played a major role during Operation Toy Drop.
Capt. Rizzoli Elias, company commander, the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, gives a German child a stuffed animal as part of Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Part of this cheer was Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and elves jumping out of an airplane and then giving toys to children from the Kaiserslautern area. Both U.S. and German children smiled and laughed with excitement as they received presents from members of the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, who dressed up as Christmas characters during Operation Toy Drop. The toys given to the children were donated by paratroopers participating in this event.
U.S., NATO ally, and partner service members receive Irish jump wings during a wing ceremony exchange hosted by the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany Dec. 14, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
“It’s a huge role for us to give back, especially to the local community within Germany, to all these kids and the American community that may not get as many presents as we do on Christmas,” said Sgt. Joshua A. Parkinson, an aerial delivery supervisor with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company. “For us to be able to do something for them while enjoying it together, then to get to watch their faces at the drop zone as Santa comes around and hands them toys from a bundle that dropped down from the sky … it’s really an indescribable feeling, but it’s something that every single jumper out here, whether they’re American or not, absolutely loves.”
Paratroopers from U.S., NATO ally and partner militaries “high five” children at Alzey Drop Zone during Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Operation Toy Drop concluded with a wing exchange ceremony, in which paratroopers that jumped with a foreign nation, would get a certificate with that country’s wings.
“For us being able to give them American jump wings and from us receiving any number of the number of countries that are here, even the British are giving out jump wings for the first time in years, for me that is absolutely huge,” Parkinson said. “It builds a real sense of these are the people to my left and right that I can count on. We go downrange, we go to a firefight these are the people we’ll be working with and for me that is absolutely everything.”
According to Shields, one of the biggest takeaways is looking forward to future operations with the NATO allies.
“We established a lot of good connections and contacts here while we were doing Operation Toy Drop,” Shields said. “That allows us to communicate with the other armies that are around us so that we can plan additional training exercises and other tactics teaching.”
The Air Force presented its first “R” devices to airmen, giving them to aircrews from the 432nd Wing/432 Air Expeditionary Wing on July 11, 2018, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
The Air Force authorized the “R” device, for “remote,” in 2016 and released criteria for it in 2017, “to distinguish that an award was earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat or military operation,” the service said in 2017.
The five airmen recognized at Creech were picked for their actions on criteria that included strategic significance, protection of ground forces, leadership displayed, critical thinking, level of difficulty, and innovation.
“It is a great honor to recognize the contributions of these airmen,” Col Julian C. Cheater, 432nd commander, said in a release. “Much of the world will never know details of their contributions due to operational security, but rest assured that they have made significant impacts while saving friendly lives.”
Maj. Bishane, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
According to the release, the airmen eliminated threats to and saved the lives of US and coalition forces on the ground.
In one case, an MQ-9 Reaper crew from the 732nd Operations Group, identified only as retired Maj. Asa and Capt. Evan, performed attack and reconnaissance missions over 74 days to identify a high-value target and known terrorist, coordinating with other aircraft and successfully carrying out a strike on the target.
“I went home that night and I knew what I did,” the airman identified only as Evan said. “I think to the outside community, something like this will give a sense of perspective.”
In other operation, 1st Lt. Eric and Senior Airman Jason, both MQ-9 Reaper crew members from the 432nd looking for ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, spotted a truck with a large-caliber machine gun heading toward coalition forces.
The two airmen tracked the vehicle, coordinating with personnel on the ground. They noticed a large group of civilians near the truck and held off firing until the truck returned to a garage, at which point they struck with a Hellfire missile.
“In this particular situation, we were able to quickly assess that the enemy was not yet inflicting effective fire on friendly forces which allowed us to completely prepare for the strike,” the MQ-9 pilot identified as Eric said in the release.
A US Air Force medal with an attached remote “R” device in front of an MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, July 9, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Thompson)
In another operation, a 432nd MQ-9 pilot named as Capt. Abrham and his crew remained on station after poor weather forced manned aircraft to withdraw. The crew continued surveillance amid the deteriorating weather conditions and eventually identified enemy personnel firing on coalition forces.
Abrham fired four Hellfire missiles, taking out three targets, two vehicles, and one mortar, before returning to base.
The decision to add the “R” device — alongside a “V” device for “valor” and a “C” device for “combat” — reflects the military’s increasing reliance on drones and remotely piloted aircraft, which often carry stay on station for extended periods and always without exposing a human to risk.
“As the impact of remote operations on combat continues to increase, the necessity of ensuring those actions are distinctly recognized grows,” Pentagon officials said in a Jan. 7, 2016, memo.
The Air Force has sought to normalize remotely piloted operations. The Culture and Process Improvement Program has been successful at implementing improved manning, additional basing opportunities, and streamlined training, the Air Force said the release, and awarding the “R” device is meant to continue that normalization effort.
“The ‘R’ device denotes that there were critical impacts accomplished from afar — often where others cannot go — and that we are ready to fight from any location that our US leaders determine is best,” Cheater said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
If there’s one thing we know about military spouse careers, it’s that they rarely follow a set path. Work from home? Full-time job? Part time? Retail? Home sales?
But military spouses don’t just forge their own paths, they willingly share the lessons they’ve learned on the way to make working easier for everyone else. And that was exactly the theme during an employment help panel at a military spouse town hall event in May before the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year awards.
The employment panel featured spouses who work for nonprofits, work from home, spend time on the road or operate their own multi-level marketing business, popularly known as home sales.
Working from home can be isolating; operating a home sales business requires keeping a robust network; and getting a new gig after your next move could be all about who you know. Those are just some of the reasons the panelists said spouses should make the extra effort to show up at networking events in person, no matter what kind of job they have.
But it’s especially important for those in home sales, said Mary Nelson, a former Coast Guard spouse of the year who has long operated her own home-based business. She even suggests attending your home sales company’s conference whether you are making enough to cover the cost or not.
“Always make an effort to attend functions. You never understand what that company is about unless you make it a point to spend that money you may not have,” she said.
2. Have a designated work space and keep work hours.
Work from home? Make sure you set aside a space in your home as an office, even if it’s just a corner, and only do work there. And be careful to work only during designated work times, not around the clock. By setting work hours and a work space, you can keep your job from taking over your entire life, even if it’s based in your home.
Meal kit delivery? Amazon Subscribe and Save? Curbside grocery pick-up? Asking a friend for help? All of these are important tools military spouses should be using to keep life simple, especially during deployments or training absences, panelists said. It’s not about working harder — it’s about working smarter.
Lindsey Bradford, a former Navy spouse of the year, said she keeps her sanity as a remote worker with a heavy travel schedule by doing things throughout the day that bring her joy. On the road, for example, she finds a local coffee shop to work from and sample. It’s all about the little moments, she said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Attacking enemy fighters in close-air-support aircraft, using ground-based laser designators to “paint” targets for aircraft, and training friendly forces for the rigors of high-casualty close-in combat are all US Air Force Special Operations Force skills tested and refined during the last decade and a half of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Drawing upon these Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), Air Force Special Operations Command is accelerating a strategic shift from its recent counterinsurgency focus to preparing for “high-end” combat or major force-on-force warfare against a technologically advanced enemy.
“I would tell you there is definitely strategic value for Special Operations in the high-end fight. With our mentality, we think outside of the box and about how to present dilemmas for the enemy,” Lt. Gen Marshall Webb, said Sept. 17, 2018, at the Air Force Association Convention.
Webb emphasized that the Command’s counterterrorism focus will not diminish in coming years but likely increase as existing threats persist and new ones emerge. At the same time, he made it clear that AFSOC is “laser focused on the high-end” and currently adapting its well-established TTPs to support major power warfare.
“We have to extend the TTPs for high-end conflict as well, including multi-domain command and control,” Webb said.
Interestingly, migrating combat-tested TTPs to a high-end fight does not seem to be an insurmountable stretch but, rather, an extension of refined combat practices. Significantly, many TTPs fundamental to counterinsurgency are also of great tactical and strategic relevance to major-power warfare. For example, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Air Force Special Operations, the Special Tactics Squadron, used advanced targeting techniques to guide aircraft attacking the Taliban. This included using Forward Air Controllers to radio strike coordinates to circling attack aircraft and using laser designators to paint ground targets.
AFSOC contributions to the war in Afghanistan are highlighted in a 2017 Special Operations Annex portion of Air Force Doctrine published by the Lemay Center for Doctrine, Maxwell AFB.
An AC-130U gunship.
“AFSOC CCTs were instrumental in the first major gain of the conflict, leveraging airpower that led to the capture of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Nov. 9, 2001 — a major breakthrough in the struggle to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” the doctrine writes.
This kind of integrated air-ground operation, used to great effect in Afghanistan, is also something of potentially great value in a high-end conflict as well. The prospect of needing close air support to fortify advancing units on the ground or attacking low-flying enemy air assets presents the kinds of scenarios anticipated in major war.
The Air Force Special Operations AC-130 gunship, for instance, often circled Kandahar in Afghanistan, to fire its 105mm side-firing cannons to attack Taliban fighters. While there are of course major differences when between attacking insurgents and engaging in major air combat with a near-peer enemy, some of the tactics, approaches and technologies do seem to cross over and offer value to both kinds of conflict.
Webb further elaborated upon AFSOCs role in close air support missions will be enhanced by the service’s emerging Light Attack Aircraft. The aircraft is designed for rugged counterinsurgency missions in combat environments where the Air Force has established air superiority. At the same time, the need for these kinds of attack missions are at very least conceivable, if not likely, in large-scale warfare also.
“The need for the Light Attack Aircraft is an excellent requirement for AFSOC,” Webb said.
Special Operations Forces (SOF) are also known for a substantial intelligence expertise, used to both train and equip friendly forces and offer crucial combat-relevant detail to the larger force. Advising allied fighters is yet another instance of skills likely to be of great value in major war. Part of this intel mission includes air and ground reconnaissance using sensors, scouting forces and unique positioning in combat terrain in support of the larger fight.
Operating in small units, often somewhat autonomously, SOF are experienced fighters in austere, or otherwise hard to reach, combat areas. This skill also, quite naturally, would add value in major force-on-force warfare, as well.
SOF is “out there in the hinterlands and don’t have the luxury of an F-16,” Webb explained.
The Air Force’s Curtis Lemay Center for Doctrine, Development and Education also cites the full range of Special Operations mission sets, many of which are specifically designed for large scale war. Combat areas listed in the Doctrine text include a range of missions relevant to both COIN and major war such as “information operations, precision strike, ISR, command and control and specialized air mobility.”
The overall strategic roadmap, such as that articulated by Webb, mirrors multi-domain concepts written into special ops doctrine materials. The Lemay Center’s 2017 Doctrine Special Ops Annex text identifies a “combat continuum” for Special Ops missions, to include low-intensity conflict such as security cooperation and deterrence, limited contingencies and major operations.”
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.