This is the competition for special operations experts - We Are The Mighty
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This is the competition for special operations experts

Who are the best commandos in the Western Hemisphere? Throw Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, Marine Force Recon, the Marine Special Operations Command, or even Air Force Special Tactics airmen into a ring and find out. Sort of.


Which is kind of what happens during an annual competition called Fuerzas Commandos. It’s been held 13 times. In 2017, Honduras took the trophy from Colombia, an eight-time winner of the 11-day event.

So, what, exactly goes down at these commando Olympics?

This is the competition for special operations experts
Team Colombia, winners of Fuerzas Comando 2016, return the trophy to Paraguayan Brig. Gen. Hector Limenza at the opening ceremony for Fuerzas Comando 2017 in Mariano Roque Alonso, Paraguay, on July 17, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christine Lorenz)

First, there is an opening ceremony during which the trophy is returned to an officer of the host nation.

This year, 20 countries (Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Uruguay) competed, sending over 700 commandos.

Participants take part in both an Assault Team Competition and a Sniper Team Competition.

This is the competition for special operations experts
A member from Team Uruguay during the physical fitness test, which includes push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 4-mile run. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elizabeth Williams)

The Assault Team Competition features a number of challenges. One is a physical fitness test.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Colombian competitors sprint through the finish line of the obstacle course event, taking a step closer to securing the Fuerzas Comando 2017 championship, July 24, 2017 in Paraguay. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Menegay)

There is a “confidence course” and an obstacle course is run as well.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Peruvian competitors run the 14-kilometer ruck march while picking up and moving various objects, ending with team marksmanship at a firing range. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class James Brown)

Close-quarters combat skills are tested and there is a rucksack march.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Costa Rican competitors clear a room in a live-fire shoot house where they must clear a building and rescue a simulated hostage as efficiently as possible. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class James Brown)

Don’t forget the aquatic events or the hostage rescue events.

This is the competition for special operations experts
A Guyanese sniper loads a round into his rifle while his teammate scans the range for targets. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elizabeth Williams)

The Sniper Team Competition features marksmanship.

This is the competition for special operations experts
A Mexican soldier looks over his ghillie suit before the beginning of a stalk-and-shoot event July 20, 2017 during Fuerzas Comando in Ñu Guazú, Paraguay. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tonya Deardorf)

Then there is concealment.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Competitors drag litters 100 meters then work together to haul them onto a platform. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class James Brown)

They also have a physical fitness test and there’s a mobility event.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Honduran, Colombian, and U.S. Soldiers commemorate a successful Fuerzas Comando on July 27, 2017, in Mariano Roque Alonso, Paraguay. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joanna Bradshaw)

This year, Honduras won the title, Colombia finished second, and the USA took third place. Next year, Panama will host Fuerzes Commandos. Will Honduras defend their title, will the Colombians make it nine out of fourteen, or will there be a surprise winner?

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Miami VA uses virtual reality to treat PTSD

This is the competition for special operations experts
VAntage Point Contributor


The invisible scars of combat can make reintegration to civilian life a challenging transition for some combat Veterans, especially for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For South Florida Veterans, a new technology combined with traditional treatments may hold the secret for a successful post-military life.

Mental health providers at the Miami VA Healthcare System are now offering a virtual reality (VR) treatment option for Veterans with PTSD. Combining VR with traditional treatments, such as prolonged exposure therapy, providers can help Veterans change how they perceive and respond to the symptoms of PTSD, which typically cause depression, isolation and anxiety.

“Avoidance, hyper vigilance and re-experiencing are symptoms of PTSD that result from memories of trauma,” said Dr. Pamela Slone-Fama, Miami VA posttraumatic stress clinical team staff psychologist. “By using a recovery model approach, prolonged exposure therapy and virtual reality, most of our patients who complete this treatment don’t experience the same level of stress and intensity when faced with painful memories. Prolonged exposure therapy is what makes this approach to PTSD recovery so effective.”

In conventional prolonged exposure therapy, patients are gradually exposed to events they avoid because of trauma, and providers directly control the stimuli – which can be adjusted based on patients’ responses and individual needs. One of the benefits of using VR in PTSD treatment is providers can control the virtual combat landscapes, sounds and even smells.

What happens during PTSD VR sessions?

Before the first VR session, providers talk with their patients about the benefits of using exposure therapy and VR to treat PTSD. If patients choose to participate, VR sessions begin during the third visit. Before beginning the session, patients are connected to the VR machine – which consists of a headset with video goggles, plastic M-4 rifle, remote to control a virtual humvee and a chair.

“Patients begin the session by recounting their traumatic memories in the present tense, while we document responses, anxiety levels and memories,” Dr. Slone-Fama said. “As patients are recounting, we can see what they are seeing on our screens and try to simulate the landscapes, sounds and smells they are describing.”

While repeatedly recounting their memories, patients also describe how they are feeling. Depending on how far along a patient is in his/her treatment, sessions can run anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes. Even though the VR session is an important piece of the therapy, the post session also has an important role in the recovery process.

“After VR sessions, we work with the patient on processing what just happened,” Dr. Slone-Fama said. “This part of the therapy helps patients understand the events that happened to them and allows them to process the entire memory. VR sessions can be intense, so before wrapping up we always make sure the patients are ok to leave. Safety is always important.”

Common Misconceptions about PTSD

While PTSD can be a serious condition, its symptoms are what cause Veterans to develop low self-esteem and unhealthy, unrealistic beliefs about themselves, according to Dr. Camille Gonzalez, Miami VA posttraumatic stress clinical team staff psychologist. She said Veterans living with PTSD frequently blame themselves for the trauma and feel hopeless.

“It’s common for Veterans with PTSD to feel as though they are permanently damaged,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “We try to help Veterans understand it’s not their fault they experienced these events. Once they realize PTSD is a result of something that happened to them, the recovery process can begin. Even though Veterans will always remember what happened to them, therapy can help them decrease the negative impacts of those memories.”

How to get help

Veterans living with PTSD don’t have to suffer alone. Veterans with PTSD can find help and support through the National Center for PTSD and their local VA health care facility.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These bombers just simulated a late-night ‘fire and fury’ bombing run on Pyongyang

The U.S. Air Force conducted joint live-fire drills with regional allies near the Korean Peninsula Tuesday night.


Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron departed Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, flew to the East Sea/Sea of Japan, and joined with South Korean and Japanese military aircraft, according to a U.S. Pacific Air Forces statement.

Tuesday’s drill marks the first time that U.S. Pacific Command B-1B Lancers have participated in a combined training exercise with Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and Republic of Korea Air Force fighters at night.

“This is a clear demonstration of our ability to conduct seamless operations with all of our allies anytime anywhere,” explained U.S. Air Force Maj. Patrick Applegate, 613th Air Operation Center.

This is the competition for special operations experts
A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions. The B-1B uses radar and inertial navigation equipment enabling aircrews to globally navigate, update mission profiles and target coordinates in-flight, and precision bomb without the need for ground-based navigation aids. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The bombers, together with South Korean air assets, conducted an air-to-ground missile strike in the East Sea/Sea of Japan, according to Yonhap News Agency, citing the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. The American bomber aircraft, after drilling over the Korean Peninsula, also took part in a live-fire exercise in the Yellow Sea.

Bomber flights and joint drills are often carried out in response to North Korean provocations, but the last major provocation was the country’s sixth nuclear test in early September.

“Through the practice this time, South Korean and U.S. air forces showed off the allies’ resolve for strong retaliation against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff explained in a statement.

The latest exercise was intended to improve allied “extended deterrence”capabilities.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Doctors confirm that Russian activist likely poisoned

German doctors treating Pyotr Verzilov have said that the anti-Kremlin activist was probably poisoned, and a Moscow newspaper reports a possible connection with the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in July 2018.

The developments on Sept. 18, 2018, deepened the mystery surrounding the sudden illness of Verzilov, a member of the punk protest band Pussy Riot and the dissident art troupe Voina who was flown to Berlin for treatment three days earlier.

“The impression and the findings that we now have, as well as those provided by colleagues from Moscow, suggest that it was highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning,” Kai-Uwe Eckardt, a doctor at Charite hospital in Berlin, told a news conference.


Eckhart’s colleague, Karl Max Einhaeupl, said that there was so far no other explanation for Verzilov’s condition and no evidence that the activist, who was initially hospitalized in Moscow, was suffering from a long-term illness.

Eckardt said Verzilov’s condition was not life-threatening. He said the symptoms indicated a disruption of the part of Verzilov’s nervous system that regulates the internal organs, but that the substance responsible for the poisoning hadn’t yet been determined.

Verzilov, 30, fell ill on Sept. 11, 2018, after a court hearing in Moscow, and later suffered seizures while being taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Friends said he began losing his sight, speech, and mobility.

The Reuters news agency quoted Jaka Bizilj, the managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group, as saying his group had paid for Verzilov’s flight to Berlin and that Russia had been “cooperative.”

Bizilj said that Verzilov suffered seizures while being taken to a Moscow hospital by ambulance.

Verzilov’s ex-wife, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told the German newspaper Bild he believed he was “poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him.”

Footage posted by Tolokonnikova showed Verzilov sitting up in the plane on the tarmac in Berlin and he appeared to be alert.

In a Sept. 18, 2018 report the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said that on the day he was hospitalized, Verzilov was to have received a report from “foreign specialists” investigating the killings in C.A.R.

Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko, were killed on July 30, 2018, in C.A.R., where they were working on a documentary about the possible activities there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary group with alleged Kremlin ties.

The Novaya Gazeta report, which cited sources it did not name, said that Verzilov was a close friend of Rastorguyev and had himself been planning to travel to C.A.R. with the trio but decided to remain in Russia to support jailed Kremlin opponents.

Verzilov is a co-founder of the website Mediazona, which reports on the trials of Russian activists, prison conditions, and other aspects of the Russian justice system. He has both Russian and Canadian citizenship.

In July 2018, he was sentenced along with other Pussy Riot members to 15 days in jail for briefly interrupting the July 15, 2018 World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia by running onto the field wearing fake police uniforms.

This is the competition for special operations experts

Pyotr Verzilov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

Verzilov became known as a member of the Voina (War) art troupe in the late 2000s.

He performed with then-wife Tolokonnikova, who went on to form Pussy Riot with Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova founded Mediazona in 2014, with Verzilov becoming publisher.

Kremlin critics accuse the Russian authorities of poisoning several journalists, Kremlin foes, and others who have died or fallen mysteriously ill since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

Verzilov’s sudden illness came against the backdrop of outrage over what British authorities say was the poisoning by Russian military intelligence officers of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in England in March 2018, and the death of a woman police say was exposed to the substance after the alleged attackers discarded it.

Featured image: Pyotr Verzilov.

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

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USS Tripoli, 2nd America-class amphib, will launch with F-35B

The Navy is getting ready to launch its now 56-percent complete second next-generation America-Class Amphibious Assault ship with specific built-in modifications designed to accommodate the emerging Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter – the F-35B.


The future USS Tripoli will formally launch sometime next year, Christianne Witten, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior in a statement.

The Tripoli, now called LHA 7, is a follow on ship to the USS America – the first in a fleet of planned new America-Class amphib; the Tripoli is slated to deliver in 2019.

“The super modules have been integrated,” she added.

This is the competition for special operations experts
The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. | U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Lawrence Grove

After delivery of LHA 6 (USS America), a group of changes to the ship’s flight deck structure and equipment were necessary to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35B) aircraft, Witten explained.

“These improvements are being incorporated into the basic build of LHA 7, which is expected to yield a better overall technical solution at reduced cost.  Additionally, the LHA 7 design will incorporate the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services (CANES) and will address fact-of-life and obsolescence instances identified throughout construction of LHA 6 and LHA 7,” she said.

Thus far, the Navy and Marine Corps have made progress with a series of extensive preparations on board amphibious assault ships in order to ensure that their flight decks, sensors and weapons systems can accommodate the first ever deployment of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter slated for 2018.

The Marine Corps short-take-off-and-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, could be the first ever fifth-generation aircraft in the world to deploy when they serve on board several amphibs in 2018, Marine Corps and Navy leaders told Scout Warrior.

The technological modifications are already complete on the USS Wasp, an operational Navy amphib; they are now underway aboard the USS America and USS Essex while also being built into the USS Tripoli, Navy officials said.

“We have one ship that is fully modified (USS Wasp). LHA 6 (USS America) has received many of the upgrades and is receiving the rest of the upgrades now. USS Essex upgrades are beginning in 2016 and we will phase the other LHD (Navy amphibs) through these modifications in coming years,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Owens, Director of Expeditionary Warfare, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

Navy engineers and shipbuilders are doing extensive work on board the USS America, the lead ship in a series of 11 planned America-class big-deck amphibs. The USS America, or LHA 6, was commissioned by the Navy October of 2014 and has completed a trail period known as “post-shakedown availability” and gone on missions to South America to connect with key allies. The ship is slated for full operational deployment with the F-35B in the future.

The USS America will undergo a series of intense modifications in order to ensure that the weapons and sensors and synchronized with the Joint Strike Fighter and that flight deck can withstand the heat of the F-35B vertical take-offs-and-landings.

Navy engineers are installing a new heat-resistant thermally sprayed non-skid, which is designed to prevent long-term heat damage to the flight deck and underlying structure, adding intercostal structural members below landing spots seven and nine. This reduces stress on flight deck, and integrating the flight deck with support equipment, sensors and weapons.

“With the added structure, these two landing spots will provide the capability to perform closely timed cyclic flight operations with the F-35B without overstressing the flight deck,” a Navy official said.

This is the competition for special operations experts
The F-35B conducts a vertical landing on the USS Wasp. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Seaman Natasha R. Chalk

Also, some of the modifications may involve re-adjusting some of the ship’s antennas in order to allow for a clear flight path for the JSF.

Once operational on Navy amphibs, the F-35B will conduct a wide range of missions to include support for amphibious ship-to-shore operations, ground operations, close-air support and what’s called “suppression of enemy air defenses,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Scout Warrior in an interview.

At the same time, the advanced sensor suite and computers on the Joint Strike Fighter will allow for a greater range of missions compared to traditional fighter jets, Burns explained.

“The F-35B will also be used as a C2 (Command and Control), limited offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance,” she added.

Some of these sensors include the F-35s Distributed Aperture System, which places 360-degrees worth of cameras around the aircraft, and a high tech targeting sensor called EOTS, or Electro-Optical Targeting System. The aircraft’s computers also allow for something called “sensor fusion,” a technology which integrates information from a host of different sensors on-board a single screen for pilots to view.

Sensors, combat systems, radars and weaponry on board amphibs are also being upgraded to better integrate with the F-35.

America-Class Amphibious Assault Ships

Much of the effort with the USS America is going inside the ship and dropping lighting and ventilation and piping wiring and everything down far enough so new material can be installed and welded in place, senior Navy officials said.

“The America class is intended to operate for sustained periods in transit and operations in an Amphibious Objective Area to include embarking, transporting, controlling, inserting, sustaining and extracting elements of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and supporting forces by helicopters and tilt rotors supported by Joint Strike Fighters F-35B,” Witten added.

The LHA 7 design will incorporate a high-tech Navy ship-based computing network called Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services, or CANES, Navy officials said.

Overall, the USS Tripoli will be 844-feet long and 106-feet wide and have a weight of more than 44,000 tons. A fuel-efficient gas turbine propulsion system will bring the ship’s speed up to more than 20 knots, a Huntington Ingalls statement said.

The ship will be able to carry a crew of 1,204 and 1,871 troops, meaning the ship is being engineered to carry a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the statement added.

America class ships are outfitted with a group of technologies called a Ship Self Defense System. This includes two Rolling Aircraft Missile RIM-116 Mk 49 launchers; two Raytheon 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns, Navy officials said.

Unlike previous amphibious assault ships, the first two America-class big deck amphibs are being built without a well deck in order to optimize the platform for aviation assets such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B.  The ship is configured with more deck and hangar space for aircraft and is designed to maximize the technological advantages provided by the F-35B and Osprey.

One of these strategic advantages, among other things, is described as vertical maneuver – the ability to use the range and speed of the Osprey to forward project mobile units deep into hostile territory possibly behind enemy lines, Navy and Marine Corps units have described.

The third America-class amphib, called LHA 8, will feature the return of the well deck.

Advance Procurement funds for the third America-class ship, LHA 8, were competitively awarded to Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), in June 2016, Witten explained. The Construction portion of the contract will be awarded in 2017.”Using Advance Procurement funds, HII has commenced planning as well as initiated the process to procure long lead time materials, she added.

“Using Advance Procurement funds, HII has commenced planning as well as initiated the process to procure long lead time materials, she added.

F-35B Will Change Tactics and Procedures on Amphibs

Part of the challenge to F-35B integration is recognizing how its technologies will change concepts of operations, tactics and procedures; the F-35B is a very different aircraft than the Harrier jets it is replacing, Navy officials said.

Harrier jets, which also have the ability to conduct vertical take-off-and-landings, are multi-role jets primarily designed for light attack missions – such as quickly flying over land locations where Marines are forward deployed and providing close air support.

While the F-35B can perform these missions as well, the new Joint Strike Fighter brings a wide range of new sensors, weaponry and aviation technology to the Corps.

The C5I (command, control, communications, computers, collaboration) requirements for the F-35B will be very different than how the Navy operated the Harrier.

Navy officials also said the service is upgrading the seeker on various ship defensive systems such as the Rolling Air Frame missile and NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile to an active seeker.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pentagon announces 2019 pay rates for active, reserve components

The Defense Department has released the active-duty and reserve drill pay tables for 2019.

Most military members will see a 2.6 percent increase in their base pay for 2019. Allowances, such as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), will also see an increase in 2019.

The raise will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, for most military members. Military retirees also will see an increase in 2019.

Service members should see the 2.6 percent raise in their first January 2019 paycheck, typically January 15 for active-duty service members, and the payday following their first “drill weekend” for Guard and reservists.


The current partial government shutdown won’t affect most military members, since the DoD is funded for 2019. However, Coast Guard members may see their pay, along with any raises, delayed, since they operate under the Department of Homeland Security. That department did not have its 2019 funding approved before the government went into partial shutdown as Congress departed the capital for its holiday break.

This is the competition for special operations experts
(Photo by Martin Falbisoner)

Check out the 2019 pay charts here.

Factors that affect military pay

  • The annual pay raise
  • Longevity raises virtually every 2 years (based on the number of years in service)
  • Promotions
  • Number of Drill Periods (Guard and Reserve Only)
  • Basic Allowance for Housing Increases: BAH (based on location).
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence Increases: BAS
  • Special Pay(s) (based on occupations: Language Skills, Combat, Flight, Hazardous Duty).

Keep up with military pay updates

Military pay benefits are changing all the time. Make sure you’re up to date with everything you’ve earned. Join Military.com for free to receive updates on all your military benefits, delivered directly to your inbox.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army Special Forces accused of lowering standards to meet quotas

The Army’s Special Warfare Center and School has launched an investigation into an anonymous email that accused its leaders of “moral cowardice” for ditching training standards and allowing undeserving soldiers to become members of elite Green Beret teams.


The sharply critical message was sent earlier this week to a wide swath of the Army’s Special Forces community. The nearly 6,300-word message declared that the school’s senior officers and enlisted leaders are primarily interested in advancing their careers by meeting demands for greater numbers of Green Berets and enforcing “political agendas.”

Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, commanding general of the school located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Nov. 30 defended the process for selecting Green Berets and rejected a number of the claims in the email. He said he stands firmly behind the “quality of every soldier we are sending to the operational force,” in a statement delivered to “men and women” of the Special Warfare Center and School.

This is the competition for special operations experts
U.S. Army Special Forces prepare to load a MH-60 Black Hawk after fast roping onto a target, during the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 28, 2012. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Justin P. Morelli)

Sonntag also said comments in the email “warrant further evaluation” and that is being done through “formal inquiries and a number of existing institutional forums.” He wasn’t more specific, however.

The anonymous email said the push to hit unrealistic quotas has led to a “dangerously less capable” force as dozens of flawed Green Beret candidates are nonetheless graduated. The message said instructors who’ve sought to hold students accountable for their academic, physical, and character performance have been instead muzzled or punished.

Also read: This Green Beret lived in a cave before receiving the Medal of Honor

But Sonntag denied that instructors have been sidelined. He said the school is consistently told its graduates “are well-trained, physically fit, and ready to join their teams from day one.”

Each of the five active-duty Special Forces groups consists of roughly 1,400 troops. The groups’ primary fighting units are 12-man “A Teams” that are led by captains.

The email also asserts that the officers and enlisted leaders in charge of Green Beret training want to enhance their prospects for promotion by ensuring female candidates are capable of completing the punishing qualification course. Women, the author said, should be outraged by the implication they need preferential treatment.

“The cruelty of the situation is that any woman with the fortitude to attempt this training would most definitely have wanted the standards to remain the same,” according to the message. “It is a point of pride to know you are every bit as capable as the best of the best, if you can do it. But they have been robbed of the ability to earn that achievement.”

Read Also: This classified American special ops unit has been recruiting females for decades

The author of the email is identified only as “A concerned Green Beret.” But the amount of detail in the message — the names of some Green Beret candidates are listed — suggested the author is a current or very recent instructor in the Special Forces qualification course.

The person who wrote the message aimed to be unknown. A copy of the message obtained by The Associated Press shows it was sent through ProtonMail, a secure service based in Switzerland that assures users their data is protected by strict Swiss privacy laws.

Green Beret units have been at the forefront in the fight against terrorist groups since the Sept. 11 attacks and their success has led Republican and Democratic administrations to conclude more of them would be better. So they’ve grown in size, putting pressure on the Special Warfare Center and School to turn out enough graduates to keep the ranks full.

But that’s triggered concerns quality is being sacrificed for quantity. A retired Green Beret officer who still works for the U.S. government used a sports analogy to make the point. No matter how popular Division 1 college football becomes, he said, there’s a finite number of people capable of playing at that level. The same holds for Special Forces. The former officer wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

This is the competition for special operations experts
Green Berets, assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group-Airborne, exit the water during a beach infiltration training exercise, part of Combat Diver Requalification, in Key West, Fla., Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Army Photo)

The author of the message said the grueling Green Beret qualification course has been watered down so much that candidates are almost assured of graduation once they’re selected to go through the yearlong program.

“After passing a 19-ish day selection process, there are no physical barriers to earning the coveted Green Beret,” according to the message. “These all were standards for EVERY Green Beret in modern history prior to this month. To say that standards have not been eliminated would be laughable, were it not so tragic.”

But Sonntag said no fundamental standard for assessing future Green Berets has been removed or adjusted even as the qualification course has modified multiple times since the Sept. 11 attacks. And he said the training remains among the most difficult in the U.S. military. So far in 2017, 541 soldiers have completed the Green Beret qualification course out of more than 2,000 who sought to be selected for the program.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the US severely sanctioned Venezuela and not others

The Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions on Venezuela on May 21, 2018, further limiting government officials there from selling debt and other assets “at fire-sale prices at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” a senior administration official said.

The new restrictions come hours after a presidential election that President Nicolas Maduro was expected to win through illegitimate means and which the US said it would not recognize before the first ballot was cast.


President Donald Trump’s stance on Venezuela and its embattled president has appeared at odds with his attitude toward the leaders of other authoritarian regimes and his administration’s response to disputed elections in those countries.

In April 2017, Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a referendum that expanded Erdogan’s powers, differing from the State Department, which cited international observers’ reports of election irregularities and called on Turkey to respect the rights of its citizens.

And in a March 2018 phone call, Trump reportedly congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection, despite guidance from his national-security team not do so.

Some leaders have been reluctant to offer Putin similar compliments, given the state’s control of much of the media in Russia as well as restrictions on opposition candidates. Election monitors said the most recent contest was “overly controlled” and “lacked genuine competition.” (President Barack Obama congratulated Putin after the latter’s 2012 election victory, though his administration also publicly expressed concerns about that vote.)

This is the competition for special operations experts
Russian President Vladimir Putin

A few days later, when asked whether Russia’s election was free and fair, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”

“What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate,” she added at the time. “We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.”

Asked May 21, 2018, about the seeming disparity between Trump’s approach to the election in Venezuela and elections under similar conditions elsewhere, senior administration officials pointed to the intensity of the economic and political turmoil in the South American country as a distinguishing feature.

“The region has never seen a kleptocracy like this,” the official said. “We’ve never seen a country as wealthy — in terms of natural resources and in human capital — as Venezuela is, driven into such an economic death spiral so quickly by such a small group of individuals determined to enrich themselves at the expense of millions of people.”

“The humanitarian suffering in this country is on a scale that we really don’t see in other places. The exodus of the migrants is something paralleling Syria at this stage,” the official added, referring to the masses of Venezuelan migrants fleeing to neighboring countries.

“The effect on a close ally of the United States, Colombia, is enormous and is threatening to drag that country into the abyss from an economic standpoint as well,” the official said. “So this is a true catastrophe in every sense of the word, within the region.”

The US is not the only country that has reproved Maduro and his government.

The Lima Group — made up of 14 countries in Latin America — rebuked the Maduro government over the election when it was announced in January 2018, and said on May 21, 2018, that it did not recognize May 20, 2018’s vote as legitimate.

Canada has sanctioned Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, as has the European Union, which also has an arms embargo in place on the country.

The US has reportedly offered lawyers and policy experts to help other Latin American countries draft similar measures.

Venezuela experts have warned that sanctions themselves are unlikely to force Maduro out and cautioned that harsher sanctions — such as ones against the oil industry on which the country is heavily reliant — could only cause additional pain for the Venezuelans.

“If you added up the 12 nations in the Lima Group and the United States together, it’s about 95% of the hemisphere,” another senior administration official said. “So everybody is truly together on this, and it’s a unity in the hemisphere, frankly, that is almost unprecedented in approaching a crisis of democracy.”

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

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The US military took these incredible photos this week

The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


AIR FORCE:

A C-130 Hercules flies over Izu Peninsula, Japan, Oct. 14, 2015. Performing regular in-flight operations gives all related personnel real-world experience to stay prepared for contingency situations and regular operations.

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Photo by Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker/USAF

Capt. Stephen Elliot and 1st Lt. Stephen Pineo, 36th Airlift Squadron pilots, prepare to perform an assault landing during a night operations exercise over Yokota Air Base, Japan, Oct. 14, 2015. The training enhanced the pilots’ ability to operate in the dark

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Photo by Airman 1st Class Delano Scott/USAF

Capt. Matthieu Rigollet, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130 Hercules pilot, flies over the coast of Japan Oct. 14, 2015. The crew of Kanto 22 flew past Mount Fuji and performed a practice bundle drop as part of Yokota’s ongoing mission to keep all personnel ready to perform real-world operations.

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Photo by Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker/USAF

Capt. Thomas Bernard, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130 Hercules pilot, performs a visual confirmation with a night vision goggles during a training mission over the Kanto Plain, Japan, Oct. 14, 2015. Yokota aircrews regularly conduct night flying operations to ensure they’re prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

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Photo by Osakabe Yasuo/USAF

Senior Airman Gary Cole, 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, surveys a drop zone at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Oct. 14, 2015. The C-130 Hercules crew performed simulated drops and several landings and takeoffs all while using night vision goggles.

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Photo by Airman 1st Class Delano Scott/USAF

ARMY:

Soldiers, assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade, conduct a live fire exercise during Operation Atlantic Resolve in Latvia, Oct. 14, 2015.

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Colvin/US Army

A UH-60 Black Hawk crew, assigned to the Texas Army National Guard, helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015.

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Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon, The National Guard

A Soldier, assigned to 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain “Patriots”, conducts Pre-Ranger Combat Water Survival training at Fort Polk, La., Oct. 7, 2015.

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JPhoto by U.S. Army Sgt. David Edge/US Army

Capt. (Ret.) Florent Groberg will receive the Medal Of Honor in a Nov. 12, 2015 ceremony, for heroic actions during Operation Enduring Freedom.

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Photo: US Army

NAVY:

Oct. 6, 2015) Children wave goodbye to their father, Lt. Chris Robinson, deploying aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Arlington (LPD 24). Arlington deployed as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.

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Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amy M. Ressler/USN

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Oct. 10, 2015) Sailors assigned to USS Constitution perform a War of 1812-era long gun drill in Charlestown Navy Yard as part of Constitution’s weekend festivities celebrating the U.S, Navy’s 240th birthday.

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photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Melkus/USN

SASEBO, Japan (Oct. 13, 2015) Operations Specialist 3rd Class Karlee Carter cuts a cake with Cmdr. Curtis Price during the celebration of the U.S. Navy’s birthday aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). Bonhomme Richard is the lead ship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

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Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Naomi VanDuser/USN

MARINE CORPS:

A UH-1Y Venom lifts off of an expeditionary airfield during an air ground defense exercise at Landing Zone Bull at Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, California, Oct. 10, 2015. This training evolution is apart of a seven week training event, hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One.

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Photo by Cpl. Summer Dowding/USMC

Gunnery Sgt. Dragos Coca engages targets during a desert survival and tactics course. Coca is a platoon sergeant with 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Elements of the 15th MEU trained with the 5th Overseas Combined Arms Regiment in Djibouti from Sept. 21 to Oct. 7 in order to improve interoperability between the MEU and the French military.

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Photo by Sgt. Steve H. Lopez/Released/USMC

Marines with 1st Marine Division provide security during a heavy Huey raid in Yuma, Arizona on October 7, 2015. This exercise was part of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, which emphasizes operational integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force.

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Photo by Lance Cpl. Roderick L. Jacquote/USN

COAST GUARD:

What keeps Coast Guard crews Semper Paratus? Training! Every training evolution proves crucial for daily operations across the nation. Here, U.S. Coast Guard Station Morro Bay conducts helicopter operations with a nearby air station.

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Photo: USCG

Aurora borealis is observed from Coast Guard Cutter Healy Oct. 4, 2015, while conducting science operations in the southern Arctic Ocean. Healy is underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of the National Science Foundation-funded Arctic GEOTRACES, part of an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans.

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Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall/USCG

NOW: More awesome military photos

OR: The 13 funniest military memes of the week

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These 8 tips will help veterans be more successful in school

You may be one of the thousands of servicemembers and veterans who will head back to the classroom to pursue postsecondary degrees or technical certifications this fall.


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You’re never too old… but more on that later.

Those who seek higher education do it for a variety of reasons. In a competitive job market, many go back to school for career advancement and to increase their chances for promotion to the next rank. Others head to the classroom to change professions or pick up a new trade.

Whether you’re active-duty, reserve, or a military veteran, there’s no question that going back to school can be exciting but stressful – this is especially true for those who’ve been out of the classroom for a long time. Here are eight tips to help you be more successful when you return to school.

1. Develop a good plan.

Planning is key when preparing for military operations. The decision to go back to school is no different.

Make sure you know a school’s accreditation and understand the difference between regional and national accreditation. Each type of accreditation has its own advantages, so make sure it’s in sync with your future plans.

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Once enrolled, work with an academic advisor at your school or installation education office to map out the best degree plan for you.

Also, make sure you are taking the right classes and identify prerequisite courses in your degree plan. Planning all your classes ahead of time can help you stay on schedule and earn your degree as quickly as possible. 

2. Take traditional classes when you can.

Online classes give all students, especially military students, the flexibility to pursue their educational goals while working the long hours typically required in the service.

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However, whenever possible, try to go to class the old fashioned way. There are some subjects, especially in math and science fields, that are better to take in a traditional classroom. Those subjects feature formulas and in-depth discussions which can be complex and difficult to understand in a self-paced setting. Working one-on-one with a professor or interacting with fellow students can make the difference between understanding the material and failing the class. 

3. Know your education benefits.

Make sure you understand all the benefits in the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you are eligible for it. It is also important to research your state’s specific educational perks for veterans and tuition assistance programs for servicemembers. This can save you a lot of headaches and money.

4. Buy used textbooks or digital ones.

Buying used books should always be your first option when looking for required course materials. Many students also buy digital versions of textbooks, which can save a lot of money, especially over time.

5. Find the right work-life-school balance

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Information Systems Technician 1st Class Christopher Binnings leaves with his family after returning to Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, from summer patrol. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles Oki)

Life is hectic enough for most people. Finding a balance between having a family life, working full-time, and trying to maintain a social life can be tough. Now throw in school work and it can all seem overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be. Managing expectations is important. If you can only take one online class a semester due to military obligations, then just do that. Structure your school schedule based on your main priorities. Learn to lean on your family and friends to help you throughout your academic journey. Talk to your supervisors about your ambitions. More often than not, they will encourage and work with you to pursue your goals.

Lastly, a social life is as important as everything else, but understand you may have to miss out on some fun events from time to time – especially during finals week.

6. Don’t be the “military” person all the time.

Being in the military instills a level of confidence and leadership qualities in people. Many veterans have a drive and work ethic unlike their civilian peers. This will tend to show up during group projects, as military students are likely to take charge or refer to their military experience when working with their peers.

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Marines participate in tug-of-war competition during a field meet at Ellis Field at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 17, 2016. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewart)

These qualities are just part of your fabric. That said, it’s ok to turn off your “military” switch every now and again. Take a step back and let some of your fellow students take charge of a class project or presentation.

Have an open mind and learn from your fellow classmates. Ask them about their experiences and seek their advice. It may give you a new perspective on many aspects of life and help make you a well-rounded person.

7. Find your military community.

Going back to school can be lonely sometimes. This can be especially true for new veterans.

The good news is many institutions of higher learning are helping veterans transition to the classroom through veteran offices and organizations on campus. Connecting with fellow veterans can make your academic experience more rewarding.

8. You are never too old to go back to school.  

If you don’t remember anything else from this list, just remember the name Alfonso Gonzales.

During World War II, Gonzales served as a field medic, treating wounded in the Pacific. After the war, he attended the University of Southern California, but was one unit short of earning a Bachelor of Science in Zoology.

At 96-years-old, this World War II vet went back to USC, finished his degree, and became the oldest graduate in the school’s history.

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Alfonso Gonzales, a World War II vet, finishes up his last class in autographical writing at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

If Mr. Gonzales can go back to school at 96, then you should have no problem.

Do you have any tips to help military members or veterans who are going back to school this fall? We would love to hear them in the comments section.

Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82

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How the Battle of the Bulge would have gone if GIs had the Javelin

Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”


Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?

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U.S. Army soldiers with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division shoot the Javelin, an anti-tank weapon. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division)

Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.

The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.

But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.

According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.

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Photo: Wikimedia

Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.

But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.

That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.

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Russia Wants Everyone To Think It’s Building This Absurd, Massive Superplane

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Screenshot/vimeo.com


Russia’s proposed new military transport will be a behemoth of an aircraft — assuming such a plane can even fly and Russia is even vaguely serious about actually building it.

According to the Kremlin propaganda outfit RT, citing design specifications from Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission, the new PAK TA transport will have the improbable ability to achieve supersonic flight while carrying massive payloads. The Kremlin plans to acquire 80 PAK TAs by 2024.

The introduction of the PAK TA is in keeping with Moscow’s stated goals of modernizing its air fleet within the next decade. Russia has dedicated $130 billion through 2020 for the modernization of its aging air force, which is largely made up of Soviet-era aircraft.

But until prototypes of the plane are built and begin flying, there is no telling how well the plane will actually perform or if it is even practical. Russia’s fifth-generation fighter, the T-50, has run into design problems. According to the Indian Air Force, the joint Indian-Russian variant of the T-50 still has numerous stealth and engine problems even at a late stage in its development.

And the PAK TA presents an even greater challenge. A supersonic plane of its size and cargo capacity — an anticipated 200 tons — could land only on a very long, reinforced runway that may need to be designed specifically for the plane. It would necessitate an astonishingly large fuel load, which would further limit the number of airports from which the aircraft could take off and land. It would also have an enormous wingspan that would make the plane an easy target for enemy forces.

On a more basic level, who would entrust 200 tons of cargo aboard such an outlandish, experimental aircraft?

It would be an astonishing accomplishment if a prototype ever takes the skies — never mind 80 finished planes.

For now, the aircraft is at most an aspiration for Russia. It may also just be a propaganda ploy meant to highlight the Kremlin’s modernization drive and create the impression that Russia’s military-industrial complex possesses technological capabilities beyond its actual capacity.

Even if the PAK TA may be crude Kremlin psy-ops, the concept art for the new aircraft is still pretty spectacular. Here’s what Moscow is claiming about its fanciful superplane of the distant and probably nonexistent future.

The PAK TA is being developed by the Russian aviation company Ilyushin.

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Screenshot/vimeo.com

The next-generation carrier is touted as being able to travel at supersonic speeds, carry up to 200 tons of cargo, and have a range of 4,350 miles.

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Screenshot/vimeo.com

The PAK TA’s payload capacity is envisioned as being 80 tons more than that of the US’ largest cargo plane, the C-5 Galaxy.

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Screenshot/vimeo.com

RT estimates that a fleet of PAK TA’s could carry 400 T-14 Armata heavy tanks. Left unaddressed is why anyone would risk loading 400 tanks into a fleet this ridiculous.

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The plane is thought to feature an upper gas turbine as well as twin electrically powered fans. The back of the plane’s wings will generate vectored thrust — assuming a single one is ever built.

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Screenshot/vimeo.com

MIGHTY TRENDING

Your issued M4 carbine could fire without a trigger pull

U.S. Army units have reported about 3,000 M4 carbines have failed a safety inspection because of a potential glitch in the selector switch that could lead to unintended discharges, Military.com has learned.

In March 2018, the Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command sent out a safety-of-use message to all branches of the U.S. military, advising units to perform an updated functions check on all variants of M16s and M4s after a soldier experienced an unexplained, unintended discharge.


The Fort Knox soldier’s M4A1 selector switch was stuck in-between the semi and auto detents. When the soldier pulled the trigger, the weapon failed to fire. The soldier then moved the selector switch and the weapon fired, the TACOM message states.

As of June 1, 2018, TACOM has received reports on about 50,000 weapons put through the updated functions check. Of that number, “about six percent,” or 3,000 weapons, failed, R. Slade Walters, a spokesman for TACOM, told Military.com.

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An M4A1 just after firing.
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Task and Purpose first reported the percentage of weapons that failed the check.

TACOM officials stress it is still early in the process and about 900,000 Army weapons still must be checked, Walters said.

Military.com reached out to the Marine Corps to see what its weapons inspections have found, but did not receive a response by press time.

TACOM officials emphasize that M16 and M4 variants “will perform as intended” if personnel follow the operator’s manual when using them.

“The additional functions check is to inform [TACOM] of the extent of this issue and determine the number of weapons affected,” the message states.

The M4A1 is now the Army’s primary individual weapon. The service is converting M4 carbines to M4A1s through the M4 Product Improvement program.

The M4A1 has been used by special operations forces for about two decades. It features a heavier barrel and a full-automatic setting instead of the three-round burst setting on standard M4s.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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