Whatever criticism is leveled at CNN, some of the network’s international reporters are as badass as they come. They may wield a pen, pad, and camera instead of an M4 rifle, but they face danger just like many troops on the frontline — and keep going back despite the risk.
One of those war journos is Arwa Damon, a fluent Arab speaker and a senior international correspondent for CNN based in Istanbul. She’s covered the bloody civil war in Syria — a fight that’s taken the life of over 100 journalists since 2011 — and was recently embedded with Iraqi troops during their assault on the ISIS stronghold in Mosul.
It’s one thing to embed with U.S. troops in a combat zone — with its professionalism, training and sheer firepower embedding with American forces offers a lot of extra protection when the sh*t hits the fan. But when you’re staking your life on the effectiveness of a rebuilt military like the Iraqi army, it’s an entirely different danger equation.
During a patrol in Mosul late last year, Damon finds herself in the nightmare scenario many American troops knew well to avoid. A slow-moving convoy of up armored Humvees weaving through ever-tightening streets and alleys with bad guys maneuvering on all sides. An explosion disables the lead vehicle, another targets the trailing one. Grenades and rockets hit the MRAP, VBIDs stream in from the sides.
A veteran of many hairy combat situations herself, Damon can sense things are about to go pear shaped and when they do, it’s the CNN reporter who has to tell the Iraqis to take a strong point and get the hell off the “X.”
What follows is a nerve-wracking 20 hours of waiting for backup. No call for fire, no QRF, no gun runs are going to un-as$ this cluster. The only respite comes at daybreak when, under fire, the crew makes a break for it and barely maneuvers it out of the kill zone.
What she brought home, however, is a harrowing look at what it’s like to be at the mercy of ISIS in an enemy-controlled city relying on a military that’s got a long way to go before it can hold its own in a complex urban fight.
When ISIS launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet they took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.
While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable,” researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups, including ISIS, to be prepared to die, let their family suffer, or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.
“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.
Those factors, he said, are the strength of commitment to a group and to sacred values, the willingness to choose those values over family or other kin, and the perceived strength of fighters’ convictions – so-called “spiritual strength” – over that of their foes.
The findings support the idea, put forward by previous research, that the will to fight lies not in rational action but in the idea of the “devoted actor” – individuals who consider themselves strongly connected to a group, fighting for values considered to be non-negotiable, or “sacred.”
Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Atran and an international team of colleagues describe how they came to their insights by travelling to the frontline in Iraq.
As well as speaking to captured ISIS fighters, the team carried out in-depth interviews with Arab Sunni combatants, as well as Kurdish fighters from the PKK, Peshmerga, and members of the Iraqi army. The frontline approach, the authors note, was crucial to capturing the sacrifices individuals actually make for their values, rather than merely what they claim they might do.
The results revealed that all followed the model of “devoted actors”, but that the level of commitment to making costly sacrifices, such as dying, undertaking suicide attacks, or committing torture varied between groups. With the sample size of fighters small, the team also quizzed more than 6,000 Spanish civilians through online surveys.
The results revealed that the majority of civilians placed their family above a value they considered sacred. However, in a finding that echoed evidence from the frontline, the team discovered that those who placed their sacred value above their group said they were more willing to make dramatic, costly sacrifices such as dying, going to prison or letting their children suffer.
Surveys of the Spanish population also revealed that they made links between spiritual – but not physical – strength and the willingness to make sacrifices.
But the team stress that decisions made by devoted actors on the frontline were not made without emotional turmoil.
“One particular Peshmerga fighter had to make a decision when the Islamic State guys decided to enter his village – he wasn’t in a position to take his family with him and escape and get in front of the ISIS fighters, and so what he did was he left his family behind,” said Richard Davis, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and Artis International.
While being interviewed, the fighter received a phone call from his wife behind ISIS lines, knowing the penalty if caught would be death. “You could see the man getting emotional, and as he gets off the phone, he begins to lament the decision that he had to go through to leave his family behind, but he indicated that fighting for Kurdistan was more important, and that he hoped that God would save his family,” said Davis. “When you hear things like that and you see a broken man – then you recognise how difficult this was for people.”
The team note that understanding the willingness to fight and die among devoted actors could prove valuable in fostering forces against ISIS, including in exploring ways to elicit deeper commitment to, and willingness to sacrifice for, values such as democracy and liberty.
“Instead of just taking volunteers into an army, we might be able to screen who we put into the army based upon the types of values they commit to, and this would create an entirely different fighting force than the one that melted in Mosul in 2014, ” said Davis, adding that the study could also inform efforts attempting to prevent fighters from joining ISIS.
Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews welcomed the research, adding that it contributed to the understanding of terrorists as “engaged followers”. “The fundamental finding is that those prepared to kill – and die – for a cause are to be understood not in terms of a distinctive personality but in terms of their immersion in a collective cause and their commitment to the ideology of that cause,” he said.
The Battle of Mogadishu is one of the most infamous and controversial engagements in modern U.S. military history. The battle has been documented in books and film, most notably the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. The film depicts the Rangers, Delta operators, 160th SOAR pilots, and Air Force Pararescuemen that made up the ill-fated Task Force Ranger. Even the 10th Mountain Division and Pakistani UN Peacekeepers were mentioned and depicted respectively. However, the film does not depict or even refer to the Navy SEALs from the elite SEAL Team Six that joined the raid on October 3, 1993, all of whom received Silver Stars for their actions during the battle.
Wasdin (second from the left) with the rest of the DEVRGU sniper team (Howard Wasdin)
HT1 Howard Wasdin enlisted in the Navy in 1983 as an antisubmarine warfare operator and rescue swimmer. He served with distinction in Anti-Submarine Squadron 7 (HS-7) and even survived a helicopter crash over water before he re-enlisted to attend BUD/S. Wasdin graduated with Class 143 in July 1987 and was assigned to SEAL Team TWO in Little Creek, Virginia. He completed deployments to Europe and the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War before he volunteered for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in November 1991, better known as SEAL Team Six. Wasdin completed an eight month specialized selection and training course to join DEVGRU and later completed the USMC Scout Sniper Course.
In August, 1993, Wasdin deployed to Mogadishu with three other snipers from SEAL Team Six and their skipper, Commander Eric Thor Olson, as part of Task Force Ranger. The special task force’s primary mission was to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid who had been attacking UN supply convoys and food distribution centers. The task force also included Air Force Combat Controllers who, like the SEALs, were omitted from the 2001 film. In the time leading up to the October 3rd raid, Wasdin and the other SEALs conducted a number of missions in and around Mogadishu. On the day of the raid, the four-man team returned to the airfield from setting up CIA repeaters in the town to find the task force gearing up. The intel driving the raid had developed earlier in the day and the mission was planned quickly.
The SEALs received the hour to hour and a half-long mission brief from Cdr. Olson in just a few minutes. “You’ll be part of a blocking force. Delta will rope in and assault the building. You guys will grab the prisoners. Then get out of there,” Cdr. Olson said, slapping Wasdin on the shoulder. “Shouldn’t take long. Good luck. See you when you get back.” With that, the SEALs, and three soldiers joined the convoy of trucks and drove into the city.
Not long into the mission, the convoy received sporadic fire. The SEALs’ Humvee, referred to as a “cutvee”, had no roof, doors, or windows. The only protection that it offered was the iron engine block and a Kevlar ballistic blanket underneath the vehicle. Neither of these were able to protect one SEAL, known as Little Big Man, from taking a round on the way to the target building. “Aw hell, I’m hit!” He shouted. Wasdin pulled over to check his buddy out and found no blood. Rather, he saw Little Big Man’s broken custom Randall knife and a large red mark on his leg. The knife, strapped to Little Big Man’s leg, had absorbed most of the bullet’s energy and prevented it from entering the SEAL’s leg.
(Kneeling, left to right) Little Big Man, Casanova, Wasdin, and Sourpuss, with other operators of Task Force Ranger (Howard Wasdin)
The convoy made it to the target building and the SEALs joined their assigned blocking position with the Rangers and Delta operators as the Delta assaulters infilled on the roof. Wasdin engaged a handful of enemy snipers with his CAR-15 for 30 minutes before the call came over the radio to return to the convoy. It was then that he took a ricochet to the back of his left knee. “For a moment, I couldn’t move,” he recalled. “The pain surprised me, because I had reached a point in my life when I really thought I was more than human.” Wasdin’s SEAL teammate, nicknamed Casanova, quickly neutralized two militia fighters as Air Force CCT Dan Schilling dragged Wasdin to safety for a medic to patch him back up.
37 minutes into the routine mission, a call came over the radio that changed the mission, and Wasdin’s life. “Super Six One down.” CW3 Cliff “Elvis” Wolcott’s bird had been shot down by an RPG, turning the raid into a rescue mission. Wasdin hopped back behind the wheel and the SEALs joined the convoy to secure Wolcott’s crash site. Holding the wheel with his left hand, Wasdin returned fire with his CAR-15 in his right hand.
On the way to the crash site, five Somali women walked up to the roadside shoulder to shoulder, their colorful robes stretched out to their sides. When a Humvee reached them, they pulled their robes in to reveal four militia fighters who would open fire on the soldiers. Seeing this, Wasdin flicked his CAR-15’s selector switch to full-auto and emptied a thirty-round magazine into all nine Somalis. “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six,” he said of the incident. Shortly after, the call came over the radio that CW3 Mike Durant’s Super Six Four had also been shot down. With two birds down, ammunition running low, casualties mounting, and an entire city out to kill Americans, things looked grim for the men of Task Force Ranger.
Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Mike Durant before they were overrun (U.S. Army)
To make matters worse, the convoluted communication network between the observation aircraft, the JOC, the C2 bird, and the convoy leader was further mired by the misunderstanding of sending the convoy to the closest crash site rather than the first crash site. This led to the bullet-ridden convoy going literally in circles and passing the target building that they raided at the start of the mission.
Even the AH-6J Little Birds providing direct fire support from the air were feeling the strain of the not so routine mission. “We’re Winchestered,” one pilot told Wasdin as he called for air support. With no ammunition left, the Little Bird pilots flew low over the enemy positions in order to draw the attention of the militia fighters skyward and off the beleaguered convoy. “The pilots didn’t just do that once. They did it at least six times that I remember,” Wasdin said, recalling the bravery of the Night Stalkers. “Our Task Force 160 pilots were badass, offering themselves up as live targets, saving our lives.”
Contact was so heavy that Wasdin ran out of 5.56 for his CAR-15, including the ammo given to him by the wounded Rangers in the back of his cutvee, forcing him to draw his 9mm Sig Sauer sidearm. As the convoy slowed, a militia fighter emerged from a doorway with an AK-47. Wasdin and the fighter exchanged rounds. The first double-tap from the Sig missed and the fighter put a round through Wasdin’s right shinbone before a second double-tap put the fighter down.
His right leg hanging on by a thread, Wasdin switched seats with Casanova and continued to return fire with his sidearm despite the incredible pain. Five to ten minutes later, Wasdin was wounded a third time, taking a round to his left ankle. “My emotions toward the enemy rocketed off the anger scale,” Wasdin recalled. “Suddenly, I realized I was in trouble.” As the convoy pressed on, the SEAL cutvee hit a landmine. Though the occupants were protected by the Kevlar blanket, the explosion brought the vehicle to a halt. With three holes in him, Wasdin thought of his family and likened his situation to one of his favorite films, The Alamo. Not willing to give up without a fight, he continued to return fire. “Physically, I couldn’t shoot effectively enough to kill anyone at that point,” Wasdin said. “I had used up two of Casanova’s pistol magazines and was down to my last.”
The only picture taken on the ground during the battle (U.S. Army)
As if scripted in a movie, the Quick Reaction Force soon arrived to extract the battered convoy from the city. With the arrival of the QRF, the militia fighters retreated and gave the convoy a much-needed reprieve. “Be careful with him,” Casanova said as he helped load Wasdin onto one of the QRF’s deuce-and-a-half trucks. “His right leg is barely hanging on.” The convoy returned to the airfield without further incident.
The scene at the base was unreal. Dozens of American bodies laid out on the runway as medics tried to sort out the most critically wounded. “A Ranger opened a Humvee tailgate—blood flowed out like water.” The sight enraged Wasdin who itched for payback. Many of the chieftains in the Aidid militia, anticipating the revenge that Wasdin and his brothers sought, fled Mogadishu. Some even offered to flip on Aidid to save themselves. “Four fresh SEAL Team Six snipers from Blue Team were on their way to relieve us. Delta’s Alpha Squadron was gearing up to relieve Charlie Squadron. A new batch of Rangers was coming, too.” Ultimately, there would be no counteroffensive.
With the broadcast of the results of the battle on American televisions, the Clinton administration feared the negative publicity that further operations could bring. “In spite of the gains, President Clinton saw our sacrifices as losses,” Wasdin recalled angrily. “He ordered all actions against Aidid stopped.” Four months later, all prisoners taken by Task Force Ranger were released.
On what should have been a routine snatch and grab operation, special operators were left exposed and eventually trapped by thousands of Somali militia fighters. Conducting the raid in the afternoon without the cover of darkness removed one of the biggest advantages that the operators had. Sending them into the city without armored fighting vehicles or Spectre gunships further reduced the American technological advantage. For warriors like Wasdin though, the ultimate defeat was not finishing the job.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency plans to demonstrate an ability to launch and recover small drones from an Air Force C-130 aircraft as part of its continued development of the Gremlins program — a technical effort designed to deploy groups of small drones carrying 60-pound sensor payloads up to ranges of 300 nautical miles.
The program is expected to culminate in an air launch and recovery demonstration in 2019.
The drones are intended to perform a range of missions, such as testing enemy air defenses and conducting ISR missions for an hour on station before returning to an Air Force C-130, developers said. A key concept of the program is extending the mission range of aircraft, while allowing manned crews to operate at safer distances.
Gremlins moves beyond existing state-of-the-art programs able, which are able to launch, but not recover, swarms of mini-drones. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, an initiative aimed at harnessing near-term emerging technologies for operational use, demonstrated an ability to launch small drones from the flare dispenser of an F-16. While able to blanket areas with ISR and perform significant mission-enhancing functions, they are expendable and not available for re-use.
“For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well,” said DARPA in a statement.
Gremlins could well be described as a technological leap in manned-unmanned teaming beyond state-of-the-art technology, as it enables drones to launch, perform missions and then return to a host aircraft. As algorithms for increased levels of autonomy advance, aircraft will be able to control drones from the cockpit with a pilot in a command and control role, service experts have explained.
At the moment, Army helicopters can used “manned-unmanned” teaming to control the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones, and the Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Gregory Zacharias has told Warrior that F-35 and F-22 fighter jets may soon have the technical ability to navigate multiple drones from the air. The idea is to use unmanned aircraft to perform ISR missions, delivery weapons or test high-risk air defenses or enemy formations without putting pilots in harm’s way. This day is fast approaching, given the pace of current progress developing algorithms enabling higher levels of autonomy, Zacharias has explained.
As of earlier this year, DARPA has continued its contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Dynetics to move Gremlins into the next phase of development, an effort which involves testing and a Preliminary Design Review.
The Gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses provides significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, a General Atomics statement said.
“We see the potential for using this technology on our own Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper® to offer our customers new mission capabilities,” David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI, said in a written statement.
The Air Force plans to be able to incinerate targets such as incoming missiles with laser weapons mounted on C-17s by 2023 as part of a directed energy developmental effort, service official said.
The High Energy Laser, or HEL, is being tested by the Air Force Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Ground tests are slated for later this year as part of a plan to precede air-launched laser weapons firing evaluations, Mica Endsley, Air Force Chief Scientist, told Military .com in an interview.
The first ever ground test of the weapon is slated to take place at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., said Othana Zuch, an Air Force spokeswoman.
Service officials are working on a solid-state laser guidance mechanism and focus so the weapon can stay on track on a particular target.
“We’re working on maturing a lot of those kinds of technologies,” Endsley said. “We will be transitioning into airborne platforms to get them ready to go into a program of record by 2023.”
Endsley added that the Air Force plans to begin firing laser weapons from larger platforms such as C-17s until the technological miniaturization efforts can configure the weapon to fire from fighter jets such as an F-15, F-16 or F-35.
The Air Force is interested in firing the weapon from sub-sonic, transonic, and supersonic platforms, Zuch added.
Aircraft-launched laser weapons could eventually be engineered for a wide range of potential uses including air-to-air combat, close-air-support, counter-UAS, counter-boat, ground attack and even missile defense, Air Force official said.
“The application will be things like being able to defeat an incoming missile for example, so that as opposed to a kinetic kill that would blow up that weapon the laser will basically melt through the metal and electronics using these non-kinetic techniques,” Endsley added.
The first airborne tests are expected to take place by 2021, Zuch added.
The developmental efforts are focused in increasing the power, precision and guidance of existing laser weapon applications, Endsley added.
“We want to put those capabilities in to a system that will move from something like 10 kilowatts up to 100 kilowatts — up to greater power. We will work on things like guidance, control and precision,” she said.
Energy to fire aircraft lasers is engineered to come from on-board jet fuel to potentially enable thousands of shots, Endsley added.
“The real advantage is it would have a much more extended magazine. Today’s have five, six, seven missiles. With a directed energy weapon you could have thousands of shots with a gallon of gasoline – a gallon of jet fuel,” she said.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Air Force has tried to mount a laser to an aircraft. The service tried to design an aircraft with a laser in the nose cone for missile defense purposes with a different style laser.
The Airborne Laser program featured a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser. It was tested in the nose cone of a Boeing 747–400 Freighter. Air Force officials say they are now benefiting from the technological efforts of its previous ABL program.
However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates killed the program in 2009 when he said it was unaffordable and questioned if it would ever be feasible.
“The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems, and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable,” he said in 2009 when he announced the end of DoD funding for the program.
Thousands of heroes have emerged since the U.S. Marine Corps was founded on November 10, 1775. Here are 11 among them who became Leatherneck legends:
1. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller
Lewis “Chesty” Puller joined the Marines during World War I, but that war ended before he was deployed. He saw combat in Haiti and Nicaragua before the outbreak of World War II.
In the Pacific theater of World War II, Puller led an American advance that succeeded against a huge Japanese force at Guadalcanal. During the Korean War Puller and his Marines conducted a fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir that crippled seven Chinese divisions in the process. He remains one of America’s most decorated warriors with 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other high-level awards.
2. Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly
Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly was called “the fightinest Marine I ever knew” by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. He is possibly most famous for leading outnumbered and outgunned Marines in a counterattack at the Battle of Belleau Wood with the rallying cry, “Come on, you sons of b-tches, do you want to live forever?”
He also received two Medals of Honor. The first was for single-handedly holding a wall in China as Chinese snipers and other soldiers tried to pick him off. The second was awarded for his role in resisting an ambush by Caco rebels in Haiti and then leading a dawn counterattack against them.
3. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler
Like Daly, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler is one of the few people who have received two Medals of Honor. His first was for leading during the assault and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914. Eighteen months later he led a group of Marines and sailors against Caco rebels holed up in an old French fort. For his bravery during the hand-to-hand combat that followed, he was awarded his second Medal of Honor.
John Basilone first served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines but switched to the Marine Corps in time for World War II. He served with distinction in the Pacific Theater and received a Medal of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal and a posthumous Navy Cross for actions at Iwo Jima.
At Guadalcanal he emplaced two machine gun teams under fire and then manned a third gun himself, killing 38 enemy soldiers before charging through enemy lines to resupply trapped Marines. He later destroyed a Japanese blockhouse on his own and then guided a tank through a minefield and artillery and mortar barrages at Iwo Jima. While escorting the tank, he was struck by shrapnel and killed.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond was possibly the world’s saltiest and most gung-ho Marine recruit when he joined at the age of 27 in 1917. He quickly became known for being loud, not caring about rank or uniform regulations, and always being ready to fight.
Foss was awarded the Medal of Honor for his World War II exploits. After that war, he helped organize the American Football League and the South Dakota Air National Guard. He deployed to Korea with the Air National Guard and rose to the rank of brigadier general before retiring. He died in 2003.
9. Cpl. Joseph Vittori
Cpl. Joseph Vittori made his mark on Hill 749 in Korea on Sep. 16, 1951. Vittori and his fellow Marines were securing a hill they had just taken from Chinese forces when a counterattack forced a 100-yard gap that could’ve doomed the U.S. forces. Vittori and others rushed into the opening with automatic rifles and machine guns.
Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney may not have the name recognition of Carlos Hathcock, but he has 10 more confirmed kills with 103. Mawhinney’s work in the Vietnam War was almost forgotten until a book, “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam” revealed that he had the most confirmed kills in Marine Corps history.
One of the scout sniper’s greatest engagements came when an enemy platoon was attempting to cross a river at night on Valentine’s Day to attack an American base. Mawhinney was on his own with an M-14 and a starlight scope. He waited until the platoon was in the middle of crossing the river, then dropped 16 NVA soldiers with 16 head shots.
11. Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson
Gilbert Johnson served in both the Army and Navy for a total of 15 years before joining the Corps. When he began Marine Corps basic training, he was nicknamed “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than many of his instructors.
The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.
According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.
This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.
A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.
In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.
It can be hard to take a precision shot on the ground. It can be even harder to do in the air. Helo-borne snipers are elite sharpshooters who have what it takes to do both.
“There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” veteran US Army sniper First Sgt. Kevin Sipes previously told Business Insider. When you put a sniper in a helicopter, that list can get even longer.
“Shooting from an aircraft, it is very difficult,” US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Hunter Bernius, a native Texan who oversees an advanced sniper training program focused on urban warfare, told BI.
“Getting into the aircraft is a big culture shock because there are more things to consider,” he added. “But, it’s just one of those things, you get used to it and learn to love it.”
A lead scout sniper with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force, provides aerial sniper coverage during a simulated visit, board, search and seizure of the dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), underway in the Coral Sea, July 7, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Isaac Cantrell)
“Eyes in the sky”
Helo-borne snipers are called on to carry out a variety of missions. They serve as aerial sentinels for convoys and raid teams and provide aerial support for interdiction missions.
“As far as taking the shot, it is not often that we do that,” Bernius explained to BI. “Our primary mission is reconnaissance and surveillance, just being eyes in the sky for the battlefield commander.” But every aerial sniper is prepared to take the shot if necessary.
A lead scout sniper with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force, tests his Opposing V sniper support system on a UH-1Y Huey aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD 20) prior to a simulated visit, board, search and seizure of a ship, underway in the Coral Sea, July 7, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Isaac Cantrell)
‘It can throw you off’
Helo-borne snipers typically operate at ranges within 200 meters, closer ranges than some ground-based sharpshooters, and they’re not, as Bernius put it, “shooting quarters off fence posts.” That doesn’t make hitting a target from a helicopter any less of a challenge.
Either sitting or kneeling, aerial snipers rest their weapon, a M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) in the case of the Marines, on a prefabricated setup consisting of several straps the sniper can load into to reduce vibration. “We’re constantly fighting vibration,” Bernius said.
Like resting your gun on the hood of a big diesel truck while it’s running, the helicopter vibrates quite a bit, Bernius explained. “If you’re talking about a precision rifle, it’s substantial when you are looking through a small scope at a hundred meters. It can throw you off a few inches or even more.”
The vibration of the aircraft isn’t the only concern. Aerial snipers also have to take into consideration rotor wash (the downward pressure from the rotating blades impacting the bullet as it leaves the barrel), wind direction and speed, altitude, and distance to target, among other things.
Communication with the pilots, who often act as spotters for these elite troops, is critical. “Going in without communicating is almost like going in blind,” Bernius explained.
Before a sniper takes his shot, he loads into the rig to take any remaining slack out of the straps and dials in the shot, adjusting the scope for elevation and wind. Breathing out, he fires during a brief respiratory pause. If the sniper misses, he quickly follows with another round, which is one reason why the semi-automatic rifle is preferred to slower bolt-action rifles.
Helo-borne snipers can put precision fire down range regardless of whether or not the helicopter is in a stationary hover or moving. In cases where the aircraft is moving, the aerial snipers will sometimes use a lagging lead, counterintuitively placing the reticle behind the target, to get an accurate shot.
Scout Snipers – Aerial Sniper Training On Helicotper
The urban sniper training that Bernius oversees is an advanced course for school-trained snipers, Marine Corps sharpshooters who have gone through the preliminary basic sniper training at Camp Pendleton in California, Camp Geiger in North Carolina, or Quantico in Virginia.
In the advanced sniper program, Marine Corps snipers go through four weeks of ground-based sniper training before transitioning to the air. “It’s primarily 600-meters-in combat-style shooting from tripods, barricades, and improvised positions,” Bernius told BI.
“The first three days is laying down in the prone, and then after that, they will never shoot from the prone again,” he explained. “These guys get pretty good at putting themselves in awkward situations. They get very familiar with being uncomfortable,” which is something that helps when the sniper moves into a cramped helicopter.
Nonetheless, moving from the ground to a helicopter is tough, and a lot of snipers get humbled, Bernius said. Fighting the vibrations inside the helicopter is difficult. “Some guys can really fight through it and make it happen, and some guys really struggle and they just can’t get over it and can’t make accurate shots,” he explained.
In many cases, Bernius told BI, aerial snipers have to rely more heavily on instinct than the guys on the ground. That takes repetition. That takes practice.
But once a sniper has mastered these skills, they can use them not only in the air, which is the most challenging, but also in any other vehicle. The skills are transferable.
Sgt. Hunter G. Bernius, a scout sniper with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Lufkin, Texas native, shoots at a target placed in the water from a UH-1Y Huey during an aerial sniper exercise.
(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Chance Haworth)
‘I’m doing this for the love of my country’
Not everyone can be a Marine Corps sniper, and each person has their own motivations for serving. “I grew up in a small town in East Texas hunting, playing in the dirt, hiding in the woods. It was a lot of fun. I could do that all day, day in and day out,” Bernius explained to INSIDER.
That’s not why he joined up, though.
Bernius had the opportunity to play baseball in college, but in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he decided to join the Marines instead. “I don’t regret it one bit.”
“I’m very patriotic,” he said. “I’m doing this for the love of my country. I’ve been in 13 years. There’s been a lot of ups and a hell of a lot of downs. But, I would say love of the country is what’s keeping me around.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division, Delta 1-321 Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, fire a 155mm Howitzer during a training mission at Forward Operating Base Andar, Afghanistan. | ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford
On March 19, U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant Louis Cardin, a field artilleryman assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, died during an attack on Fire Base Bell outside of Makhmur, Iraq. Coincidentally, the U.S. Army is hard at work developing a farther-firing howitzer that could help keep artillery troops out of range of enemy forces.
The Army is cooking up a suite of improvements could double the range of the existing M-777 howitzer. Right now the 155-millimeter gun, in service with the Army and Marines, can lob shells at targets up to 18 miles away.
The M-777ER version the Army is working on “will be able to reach out and hit targets … before the targets can reach them,” David Bound, the lead engineer on the project at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, told Army reporters. Troops “won’t have to worry about coming into a situation where they are under fire before they can return fire.”
The modifications add fewer than 1,000 pounds of extra weight onto the older howitzers. The updates include improvements that will help gunners fire more accurately plus a mechanism to automatically load rounds into the gun.
The biggest change is the addition of new barrel that’s six feet longer. The longer M-777ER should be able to hit enemy forces more than 43 miles away. And with more powerful propellant charges and rocket-assisted shells, crews might be able to increase that range even more in the near future.
While the changes to the M-777 might sound simple, the new gun’s extra length actually complicates its employment. Unlike older towed howitzers that hitch up to cargo trucks with their stabilizing legs, the lightweight M-777 has its tow loop right at the end of its barrel. Folded up for travel, the new version will still be more than 35 feet long.
In combat, troops could end up taking the guns off-road, up hills and over uneven terrain. With six more feet between the truck and the howitzer’s own two wheels, there’s greater potential for the barrel to flex if it isn’t sturdy enough to withstand the shock.
A bent barrel would throw off where the shells fall. A broken barrel might simply explode.
So, the project’s biggest challenge might be just convincing soldiers and Marines that the guns work. “The visual prejudice we are up against is that it looks like it may tip over with all that extra cannon,” Bound noted.
With help from engineers at Benet Labs, the Army plans to run “mobility” demonstrations to prove that the gun and its new features are ready for combat. The ground combat branch also plans to install the longer barrel on the new M-109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.
Farther-firing cannons would no doubt help in the fight against Islamic State. Since the summer of 2015, the Army has lobbed hundreds of 227-millimeter rockets at militant forces from bases in Iraq and Jordan.
Launched from the back of a six-wheel truck, these GPS-guided projectiles can hit targets up to 43 miles away — the same range the Army expects of the M-777ER. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher can shoot one rocket every five seconds. But the vehicle can only fire six rockets in total before the crew needs to reload.
“So to provide protection for … advisers in Makhmur, we realize that we need some fire support, we need some artillery to provide great protection,” Army colonel Steve Warren, the Pentagon’s main spokesman for the campaign against Islamic State, told reporters on March 21. “We scratched out a fire base there, placed the guns.”
Rocket and gun artillery have the benefit of being less vulnerable to air defenses and the weather than fighter-bombers or gunship helicopters can be. Depending on where aircraft are during an attack, these weapons might take far less time to get into action.
The trainers and Marines at Fire Base Bell are backing up the Iraqi government’s offensive to liberate Mosul. But in their current configuration, the Marine Corps’ guns can’t reach the outskirts of the terrorist-controlled city.
“The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces,” the military stated. In short, at the moment the gunners at Fire Base Bell are mainly harassing Islamic State’s fighters. But with the M-777ER’s extra range, they should be able to hit the militants’ main defenses in Mosul’s suburbs.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal budget request for 2019 includes $686 billion for defense spending.
While Trump has pushed for a larger military since he was campaigning for president, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said more recently that the “real growth” in the military buildup begins with the now-unveiled fiscal 2019 budget.
With this behemoth amount, the military is setting up contracts that will help the US fight the next war against near peer threats. This includes vehicles, aircraft, ships, and hundreds of thousands of munitions, much of which was used up in the fight against ISIS.
Here are a couple purchases that stand out:
77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters
The military seems set on rolling out the new fifth-generation stealth jet. The fighter has recently gotten some good news for future international sales, as tensions in Asia and the Middle East rise.
The purchase of 77 F-35s is expected to cost $10.7 billion.
B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber
The B-21 Raider is a long range stealth bomber that is intended to replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit. Details of the B-21 are scarce, as even Congress doesn’t know much about it.
$2.3 billion will be spent on further development of the aircraft, which is expected to be an important part of the future nuclear triad.
15 KC-46 tankers
Aerial refueling plays a massive role in operations against ISIS and the Taliban. The KC-46 Pegasus can carry 212,299 pounds of fuel, and has a maximum transfer load of 207,672 pounds. It is intended to replace the KC-135 Stratotanker.
Sikorsky’s S-92 has been selected to replace the Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King as the president’s official helicopter. Initial fielding is planned for 2020, and the helicopters will have the iconic white and green paint scheme that is unique to presidential helicopters.
The price for the six new helicopters is expected to be $900 million.
5,113 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles
The Department of Defense wants to fully replace the Humvee, which has been the workhorse of the US military since the mid-1980s. DoD has selected Oshkosh’s L-ATV line as the primary vehicle for its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.
The Pentagon has allocated $2 billion for the purchases.
Two Virginia Class submarines
The Virginia-class submarine is currently the Navy’s newest type of submarine. It is a nuclear-powered attack sub, and has the latest stealth technology. Virginia-class submarines are replacing older Los Angeles-class submarines, and are expected to be in service up to 2070.
Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers are the backbone of the current Navy fleet. The Navy currently has 64 of the destroyers in service, and want to add three more. The plans to buy more Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers may be an admission that the plans for the Zumwalt-class are not going well.
The three new ships will cost $6 billion.
43,594 Joint Direct Attack Munitions
JDAMs are unguided “dumb” bombs that have gotten equipment that turn them into “smart” bombs, meaning they can be guided to their targets. The war against ISIS has caused a bomb shortage, so it should come as no surprise that the military is ordering so many new ones.
The cost for the 40,000+ bombs will be $1.2 billion.
4,338 Hellfire missiles
Hellfire missiles have proven to be absolutely essential for precision strikes against terrorists from Iraq and Afghanistan, to Syria and Somalia. They are anti-tank missiles that can be loaded on helicopter gunships like the AH-64 Apache, or drones like the MQ-9 Reaper.
148,287 155mm artillery rounds
Despite the fact that precision guided strikes have become the dominant method of destroying enemy targets, good old fashioned artillery is still a vital part. In fact, Marines in Syria recently set a new record for artillery barrages that have been intact since the Vietnam War.
A good meal after a hard day in the field can make everything a little bit better. MREs aren’t that meal but they try to be. Everyone has their favorite ration meal, even if he or she has to doctor it up a bit by mixing different parts from other packages (here’s a list of ration recipes).
No matter how U.S. military rations change, there is always one meal in the box which makes you wonder who thought it would be a good idea. This is a list of those meals that made us yearn for the days of lettuce and powdered eggs from a field mess.
1. Vegetable Omelette
It’s understandable the military would want to come up with vegetarian options. Why anyone decided eggs would be a good idea is what’s hard to understand. Cheese tortellini wasn’t bad, why not use that as a starting point?
Instead, we have this monstrosity, aka the “vomelet,” which has all the flavor of cold scrambled eggs and all the texture of dried papier maché. It’s every bit what you imagine eating Spongebob Squarepants must be like.
2. Ham and Lima Beans
This is a throwback meal to the days of C-Rations. Lima Beans and Ham (aka “Ham and Motherf**kers”) was so bad, it was the Voldemort of field grade lunches, as troops wouldn’t even dare to say this meal’s name. When GIs gave rations to hungry civilians in Korea, the Koreans would throw this particular meal back at them. Troops added cans of cheese sauce and/or cracker crumbs to try to make this war crime palatable.
3. Jamaican Pork Chop
Jah, mon! Come on have little slice of this leather with some pepper on it. Uncle Sam try’nta save jah money by feeding jah garbage rejected by hog farms.
Seriously, if we’re talking about jerks, it’s the clowns who wanted to give us some of our favorite international cuisine but decided Jamaica was close enough. This is like eating the sole of your boot with noodles. To be fair, the guys over at MRE Info love this one.
4. Country Captain Chicken
Country Captain Chicken will give you Current Traumatic Stress Disorder. Imagine someone squished together a handful of Chicken McNuggets, flattened it out, then dried it in the sun for ten days. Then imagine they soaked the newly formed patty in a bath of tomato sauce and citrus juice, and what the hell, let’s throw a couple of almonds in there. Chunks of tomato and black beans round out the most awful thing anyone ever tried to pass off as food.
5. Buffalo Chicken
Buffalo Chicken might be the signature flavor of America and while the MRE version of Buffalo Chicken may not be all that bad, the effect on your stomach is like having forty tailgating Bills fans making a mess of your insides. Dig the latrine before you crack this bad boy open.
6. Beef Frankfurters
You know a meal has to be good when its nickname is “Fingers of Death,” right? Right. Beef Frankfurters deserved every single insult ever lobbed at them. While I can understand the urge to give troops in the field a taste of home through a good ol’ American hot dog, if you’ve ever tried this ration, the only home it makes you think of is Hannibal Lecter’s.
The veterans currently living in the Lebanon Veterans Home in Lebanon, Oregon have walked through tough times. The majority of them are over 70 years old and around one third of them over 90. Many of them saw combat in the Korean War, Vietnam War and even World War II. They made it home from those wars only to have another show up at their doorstep at what should be a quiet time in their lives: COVID-19.
Trying to survive a global pandemic is their new war.
The Lebanon Veterans Home houses more than 145 veterans and some of their spouses. There have been 14 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the home, which has been wreaking havoc on the world. On Sunday March 22, 2020, a veteran of the home died from the disease. He was in his 90s and served this country with honor.
While the residents of the home continue to reel from the death of one of their friends and neighbors, the fight for their well-being is just beginning. The entire facility is now in complete lockdown with no visitors allowed. The residents are also now barred from doing group activities or even eating together anymore. In a sense, they are quarantined to their rooms. This is a traumatic change for these veterans and is causing a negative impact to their mental health.
The intensity of the response to combating COVID-19 for these veterans is due to all of them being considered high risk with their age and medical conditions. Although warranted to prevent the spread of this disease, the veterans are suffering in their isolation.
Tyler Francke, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs spoke with We Are The Mighty to ask our readers for their help by submitting messages of hope, encouragement and gratitude via homemade videos. The veterans home has a closed-circuit TV that they can showcase the videos on. These videos would go a long way to let these veterans know they aren’t alone and they can make it through this tough season.
“The Lebanon Veterans’ Home is an amazing place,” Francke said, “and it’s all because of the dedicated and hard-working staff, and the incredible residents who live there. The men and women there are unbelievable. They’re our nation’s heroes, and yet, they ask for nothing. Instead, they do what they can to brighten your day. Around the Home, I know it’s become something of a rallying cry: ‘They fought for us, now we fight for them.’ I know there are a lot of people all around the community, the state and even the country who are pulling for them, and we just thought this would be one really cool way for everyone to show it.
Francke asked that people send 30-45 seconds of positive videos with big smiles and clear voices offering messages of support, encouragement and hope. These can easily be done on a cell phone and do not require any production.
Residents smile for a photo. Picture via Facebook.
These videos would take but a moment out of your day to make a veteran smile and bring hope to their hearts. This is a great project for kids to do while they’re in virtual learning. Many of the veterans have grandchildren and great-grandchildren they’re unable to see, and it’s a great way to teach your kids about history, service and selflessness.
These veterans sacrificed so much for America, help show them they haven’t been forgotten and that they can make it through this.