Having completed their missions, some troops deployed to the US-Mexico border are heading back to their home bases, US Northern Command reported Dec. 13, 2018.
The number of troops at the border, which peaked at 5,900 troops from across the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, has been decreasing. Around 750 service members serving in Texas and Arizona redeployed to their home bases to prepare for other missions on Dec. 12, 2018. The Department of Defense currently has roughly 4,200 active-duty troops at the southern border.
By state, there are 1,700 active-duty troops in Texas, 1,000 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. There are also approximately 2,100 National Guard units deployed to the US-Mexico border. For the active-duty troops, the mission, originally known as Operation Faithful Patriot but later renamed “border support,” was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018, but the Department of Defense agreed to extend the mission to the end of January following a Department of Homeland Security Request.
Army engineers install concertina wire Nov. 5, 2018, on the Anzalduas International Bridge, Texas.U.S Northern Command is providing military support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southern border of the United States.
(US Air Force photo by Airman First Class Daniel A. Hernandez)
The troops that have left the southern border are certain engineering, logistics, and headquarters units, some of which were involved in hardening points of entry and erecting barriers. Since late October 2018, troops have set up 70 miles of wire obstacles and moveable barriers at 22 ports of entry.
(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)
Among the remaining troops are military police units, which have completed 10,000 man-hours of unit training — including tactical and riot control training — in recent weeks, while military rotary wing aviators flew more than 740 hours in support of the border mission. These units will continue their service in border areas.
Several thousand troops were sent to the border toward the end of October 2018 to support Customs and Border Protection as large caravans consisting of thousands of Central American migrants marched northward. While the mission initially focused on barrier emplacement, a force protection element has also been incorporated for the active-duty military personnel deployed to the border.
U.S. Soldiers and Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, practice non-lethal crowd control drills at the Calexico West Port of Entry in Calexico, California on Nov. 27, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Nyatan Bol)
While there was a clash between migrants and CBP personnel at the San Ysidro port of entry November 2018, there have not been any serious escalations since. Some of the migrants have actually started heading home.
President Donald Trump stated Dec. 11, 2018, that the military could be directed to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, but the Pentagon explained the same day that there is no plan at this time for service members to do so.
Many of the president’s critics have accused Trump of using the military for a political stunt. These accusations have been rejected by the Department of Defense and the administration.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The independent Bellingcat research organization claims to have more information that the two men suspected in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal have links to Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU.
Bellingcat said on Sept. 20, 2018, that a joint investigation with Business Insider “can confirm definitively” that the two suspects, Ruslan Boshirov and Aleksandr Petrov, have links to the GRU, “based on objective data and on discussions with confidential Russian sources familiar with the identity of at least one of the two persons.”
On Sept. 14, 2018, Bellingcat said it had reviewed Russian documents that indicated the two men had no records in the Russian resident database prior to 2009, a sign they may be working as operatives for the government.
“Crucially,” Bellingcat added at the time, “at least one man’s passport files contain various ‘top-secret’ markings which, according to at least two sources consulted by Bellingcat, are typically reserved for members of secret services or top state operatives.”
In its latest report, Bellingcat said it and Business Insider obtained Petrov’s and Boshirov’s border-crossing data for several European and Asian countries. It said the men’s names are believed to be aliases.
“Their globe-trotting, unpredictably meandering itinerary is at times reminiscent of characters out of [film series and television program] Mission Impossible, yet a focus on the countries of Western Europe is clearly visible,” it said.
A handout picture taken in Salisbury of two Russian men who have been identified as Aleksandr Petrov (right) and Ruslan Boshirov.
Bellingcat said a source in a Western European law enforcement agency informed it that the suspects had been previously arrested in the Netherlands, but “no information has been provided as to the time and context” of the arrests.
Bellingcat said it discovered there were just 26 intervening passport numbers between Petrov’s document and the cover passport issued for Eduard Shishmakov, aka Shirokov, a former Russian military attache in Warsaw expelled by Poland in 2014 for espionage.
Shishmakov’s passport was issued in August 2016, the report said.
The finding suggests that the special authority that issued the passports had only granted 26 passports between April and August 2016, Bellingcat said.
It has been previously reported that the passport numbers of Boshirov and Petrov differed only three digits and that they held “Top Secret” and “Do Not Provide Information” markings.
The documents were allegedly issued by an authority normally reserved for intelligence officers and important government officials, it said.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on March 4, 2018, on a bench in the southern English town of Salisbury. They were seriously ill but later made a full recovery after spending several weeks in a hospital.
British officials said the two were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union, and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government for the attack.
In June 2018, a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.
“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” – Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
First Lt. John Keith Wells, the Marine commander responsible for raising the first flag atop Mt. Suribachi, died on February 11, just days shy of the 71th anniversary of his time on Iwo Jima.
“He was a very warm, sensitive, spiritual man, all the way to age 94,” Connie Schultz, Wells’s daughter, told Denver 7.
He was also tough as nails.
“Give me 50 men not afraid to die, and I can take any position,” Wells said during the transit to Iwo Jima.
On February 19, 1945, he was ordered to lead the 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division in an assault up the base of Mt. Suribachi. In keeping with his claim, he succeeded.
1st. Lt Wells’ platoon is believed to be the most decorated platoon in Marine Corps history for a single engagement. His individual awards included a Navy Cross, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.
Here is an excerpt from his Navy Cross citation:
When ordered to attack across open terrain and dislodge the enemy from a series of strongly-defended pillboxes and blockhouses at the base of Mount Suribachi, First Lieutenant Wells placed himself in the forefront of his platoon and, leading his men forward in the face of intense hostile machine-gun, mortar and rifle fire, continuously moved from one flank to the other to lead assault groups one by one in their attacks on Japanese emplacements. Although severely wounded while directing his demolition squad in an assault on a formidable enemy blockhouse whose fire had stopped the advance of his platoon, he continued to lead his men until the blockhouse was destroyed. When, an hour later, the pain from his wound became so intense that he was no longer able to walk, he established his command post in a position from which to observe the progress of his men and continued to control their attack by means of messengers.
In a 2013 interview with the Arvada Press his daughter Connie said, “He didn’t give an order. His men just followed him because they respected him so much as a leader.”
Even after several wounds, including shrapnel and a chunk of his leg being severed, Wells continued to lead his men until he physically couldn’t do move because of severe dehydration. But he wasn’t down for long. He convinced a corpsman to give him sulfa powder and morphine so he could get off the hospital ship and back to his platoon.
Once Wells reached the base, one of the flag raisers, Charles Lindberg, helped him the rest of the way.
According to the 5th Marine Division’s “Legends” page, after the first flag was raised Wells’ commanding officer ordered him to relinquish command of the platoon and return to the aid station. Wells reluctantly passed the platoon to Sgt. Ernest “Boots” Thomas who was killed in action several days later. Wells remained on the island, although unable to lead his troops, until the island was declared secure.
Wells’ daughter pointed out that the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photo, the one used to design the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, was actually the second flag raised on the island. “The first one caused so much emotion that [one of the commanders] ordered a bigger flag be flown,” she said.
After World War II ended, Wells attended Texas Tech College and obtained a degree in Petroleum Geology. He worked in the oil industry and served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1959, retiring as a major.
Growing tensions with Russia have led NATO and its members to make a number of changes to their military posture on the ground in Europe, and now the US is reactivating its Second Fleet to oversee the northern Atlantic Ocean and US East Coast.
The Second Fleet was deactivated in September 2011 after 65 years of service as part of a cost-saving and organizational-restructuring effort; many of its personnel and responsibilities were folded into US Fleet Forces Command. The announcement of its reactivation came during the change-of-command ceremony for US Fleet Forces Command, to which the Second Fleet commander will now report.
Second Fleet’s return is part of a shift by the US toward preparing for potential great-power conflict — and to counter Russia in particular.
“Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great-power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of US Naval Operations, said on April 4, 2018.
“Second Fleet will exercise operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft and landing forces on the East Coast and northern Atlantic Ocean,” Richardson said. It will also plan and conduct maritime, joint, and combined operations and train, certify, and provide maritime forces in response events around the world.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Matt Matlage)
The fleet will be activated on July 1, 2018, and initially be staffed by 11 officers and four enlisted personnel, eventually growing to 85 officers, 164 enlisted personnel, and seven civilians, according to a memo announcing the change obtained by US Naval Institute News.
Issues such as the rank of the commander and relationship with joint commandant commands remain to be decided.
Also unclear is the future of Fourth Fleet, which is the naval branch of US Southern Command set up in 2008, largely to host Coast Guard law-enforcement detachments. Prior to 2008, the Second Fleet was responsible for operations in Central and South American waters.
The ‘fourth battle of the Atlantic’
Prior to the 2014 seizure of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine by Russian forces, Navy forces on the US side of the Atlantic Ocean were mainly focused on humanitarian and disaster relief missions as well as drug interdiction.
But Russian naval activity has increased considerably in recent years, with several NATO officials describing it as being at the highest levels since the Cold War. (Though Cold War-era intelligence reports indicate that activity is still far short of Cold War peaks.)
Russia’s navy is also smaller than it was during the Cold War, but Moscow has pursued ambitious modernization efforts, focusing primarily on the Black Sea and Northern fleets. The latter force, based in and around the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic, represents a significant military force a short distance from NATO territory in Norway and contains Russia’s sea-based nuclear forces.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael C. Barton)
In 2016, US Navy Adm. James Foggo III, who is now chief of Naval Forces Europe, described tensions between Russia and the US as the “fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following the surface and submarine battles of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.
“Once again, an effective, skilled, and technologically advanced Russian submarine force is challenging us,” he said. “Russian submarines are prowling the Atlantic, testing our defenses, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing the complex underwater battlespace to give them an edge in any future conflict.”
The US Navy has increased its patrols in the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic, and the Arctic. US Navy ships have also been more active in the Black Sea to “desensitize Russia” to a US military presence there. US and Russian ships have also operated in close quarters in the eastern Mediterranean, where Russian forces are assisting the Bashar Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
The Navy is also renovating hangers in Iceland to house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft there to monitor the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, a choke point for ships moving between the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans — though that doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent presence will be reestablished there.
NATO is making changes to its command structure in response to increased tension with Russia and to prepare for potential military operations on and around the continent.
In March 2018, Germany announced that the proposed NATO logistics command — which would work to streamline the movement of personnel and material around Europe — would be based in the southern city of Ulm.
The other new command the alliance wants to establish would oversee and protect the North Atlantic. In the event of conflict with Russia, it be responsible for keeping sea lanes open for US reinforcements heading to Europe.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the summer of 2007, in a bizarre incident shown live on Russian television, scientists accompanied by a couple of senior politicians descended 4,300 meters to the floor of the Arctic Ocean in two Mir mini submarines. Divers then planted a Russian flag on the seabed, and Russia officially notified the United Nations that it was claiming the ridge as part of its sovereign territory.
In effect, the Chinese did the same kind of thing when they decided to start building islands in the South China Sea by dredging sand from the bottom of the ocean.
In both cases, the countries were creating new sovereign territory.
One implication of their declaration was that anyone traveling within the 12-mile limit defined by international law was traversing through their sovereign waters, and could only do so subject to their approval.
A Russian flag planted by from a submarine undersea at the North Pole.
So the question is: why do American policymakers care about seemingly insignificant tracts of land so far away from America’s shores?
International law and American concerns
International law is pretty clear. You can’t declare any territory submerged under the sea outside the conventional 12-mile limit as your own, although you may have some privileges in the waters that lie immediately beyond it. You certainly can’t build up some land to above the waterline, thus creating an island, and call it part of your own territory. And in neither case can you legitimately control access by other vessels. Indeed, no international commission has upheld the Russian or Chinese claims. But that hasn’t stopped either the Chinese or the Russians from trying.
Americans, however, are pretty emphatic when it comes to denying such claims have any legitimacy.
In the Russian case, American policymakers were understandably caught off guard and bemused by this strange symbolic act.
But, at the same time, American policymakers have a right to be worried. Climate change could vastly increase sea traffic through the Arctic Ocean. And the future implications of Russian control of these sea-lanes have lots of potential downsides, given recent friction over Ukraine and Syria.
In the Chinese case, Americans were caught off guard and bemused when they shouldn’t have been.
The Chinese have been making claims for a long time about their sovereignty over huge portions of both the East and South China Sea. But in this case, Americans are worried about what China’s control of these waterways might do now to these commercial shipping lanes. Every year an estimated 50% of the world’s total of commercial trade plus oil passes through the area.
Global trade and American national security
The question of why we do care isn’t as obvious as it may seem.
America’s policymakers declare that the maintenance of global trade and commerce is in its national security interests. So America needs to keep these shipping lanes open to what they call “freedom of navigation.”
What that means is that they can send an Aegis class destroyer (so this was a powerful ship, not the equivalent of a coast guards vessel) and sail it past the Subi Reef (think of an island so small it would drive you mad if it was deserted and you had to live on it alone). It’s the equivalent of a drive-by — just to send a message.
Then you put the US secretary of defense on an aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, and do it again — just to ensure that both the Chinese and America’s important regional allies understood the message:. “This isn’t your territory — and our mighty navy is not about to allow you to push us out.”
You might understandably assume that the Chinese, with their huge volume of exports, would also want to maintain open seas. And that the Russians would want to ship oil and gas to keep their economy afloat by water. So there is nothing to worry about.
But that’s where more modest concerns about global trade are replaced by those about deeper, hardcore national security interests. For Americans there is a difference between “our” open seas and “their” open seas.
Freedom of navigation and American doctrine
A central element of American national security doctrine is the notion of “Freedom of Navigation” or FON.
In effect, we (Americans) assert our right to sail where we want, when we need to. Behind that, however, is the deeply embedded concept of “control of the commons..”
Military historian Alfred Thayer Mahan popularized this idea over 130 years ago. He stressed the importance of America’s navy in ensuring the free flow of international trade. The seas were his “commons.”
Alfred Thayer Mahan 1840 – 1914.
Mahan argued that the British Empire was able to retain its commercial and military advantage by ensuring its ships could go anywhere. And that it could deny anyone else from doing so, if needed, in times of war. The overriding lesson is that wars are not won on the land. They are won on the sea by denying your adversary access to resources.
Today, Mahan’s work remains a core element of America’s military doctrine. It is taught to America’s naval officers at their major training academy where he himself once worked and where his work is still regarded as having biblical significance. But it no longer is just applied to commercial trade. It now is applied to the access of its military in all kinds of commons — in the air, on the sea, in space and even in cyberspace.
So American policymakers become frustrated when they believe Chinese hackers spy on the US or they build islands because it demonstrates that the US can’t “control” that commons.
But the sea remains the priority when it comes to controlling the commons.
And Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea offers the prospect that a key trading route located in a narrow strip of water between land masses either side, what they call a chokepoint could be closed by the Chinese, in the future, if not today.
(US Department of Defense)
The Malacca Strait on the Western end of the South China Sea is one chokepoint — the immediate object of the US’ concern. The Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where much of the world’s oil passes through, is another. And, at least according to the US Congressional Research Service, the Arctic Ocean, where the Russian planted their flag, could become another.
So this leaves the Americans with an abiding dilemma.
They are saddled with a grand military doctrine built on the principle of keeping the globe’s key access points freely accessible to the US. The barely audible counterpart is that it should maintain a capacity to deny that access to any potential adversary in case of war. The doctrine, however, in practice can itself engender conflict — as we saw with the Chinese.
America may have a much bigger military capacity and even newer technologies that allow it to fight conventional wars. But defending the open seaways is expensive and often counterproductive. The Chinese, for example, are the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels and China is far more dependent on foreign oil than the newly fossil fuel independent United States.
So critics ask why the US is defending the Persian Gulf when the Chinese are the prime beneficiaries?
The answer, it appears, has far more to do with military strategy than with global commerce.
Representative Martha McSally, R-Az., an Air Force veteran, launched into the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Capitol after they testified that manning levels were too low and budget cuts were too high. According to a story posted at Air Force Times, McSally called their logic the “newest excuse” for prematurely retiring the venerable A-10 “Warthog” attack aircraft, and she questioned if it wouldn’t be wiser to cut non-essential personnel like “the hundreds of people playing tuba and clarinet.”
“If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun,” McSally said during the hearing. “But we’re not at that place, and I’m just concerned over these conflicting statements.”
“We’ve mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have,” McSally said.
“It’s not just a platform issue, it’s a training issue,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, CJCS, replied. “As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away.”
“We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat … and … needs evaluation,” she said.
McSally knows a thing or two about the topic of military aviation. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and then spent 22 years serving as an attack pilot, including commanding an A-10 squadron. In 2001 she famously sued DoD over the policy of making female service members wear veils while stationed in Saudi Arabia. She retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent a year as a college professor in Germany before running for Congress. She lost a close race for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in 2012, and then won a close race two years later.
And, for the record, the Air Force says it currently has about 540 enlisted airmen and 20 officers assigned to band billets.
MOSCOW — Last week, Russians of a certain age saw a familiar face return to their screens. Anatoly Kashpirovsky, a self-styled psychic healer who entranced TV audiences as the Soviet Union was coming apart three decades ago, is back as an octogenarian YouTuber offering solace as the coronavirus spreads.
And some are taking what he has to offer, apparently, helping revive the career of a man who had become an almost forgotten symbol of a time when desperation ran high.
Almost 250,000 viewers have watched Healing Seance, a video posted on April 9 to Kashpirovsky’s channel on YouTube:
Кашпировский: Оздоровительный сеанс. Прямой эфир из Москвы. 09.04.2020г.
He sits immobile against a background of beige wallpaper and asks viewers to cover their eyes with their hands — not normally advisable as a pandemic rages.
“Over the coming days,” he says toward the end of what is essentially an hourlong monologue, “comments will keep coming in from people who have been cured.”
Kashpirovsky, now 80, achieved celebrity status in the Soviet Union through a series of televised sessions beginning in 1989 — two years before the country ceased to exist. Fixing his steely gaze on viewers who sat at home, some transfixed, he claimed powers to cure the sick and heal a nation that was hurting from the effects of economic decline.
At the peak of his celebrity in the early 1990s, Kashpirovsky was traveling the country to appear before packed halls and placed second only to President Boris Yeltsin in surveys of Russia’s most popular public figures.
In the waning days of the U.S.S.R. and the early years after its collapse, millions of people looking for meaning amid the chaos of change and stark economic challenges turned for relief to people like Kashpirovsky, who years earlier might have risked being sent by the Soviet state to a psychiatric hospital but now found a prominent place on prime-time television.
Early Morning Psychics
Kashpirovsky was not alone. Hundreds of thousands watched Allan Chumak, his main rival, as he flailed his arms in a “healing” ritual on his early morning TV slot. Viewers would place water bottles or tubs of cream in front of their TV sets to “charge” them with Chumak’s energy, which the mystic claimed was enough to heal ailments if drunk or smeared on the skin.
Kashpirovsky’s most famous stunt came in March 1989, when he appeared on a screen inside an operating room in Tbilisi, Georgia, via video link from Ukraine, and proceeded to guide a woman who could not use anesthesia through open abdominal surgery.
“Now everyone who watched me can go to the dentist and have their tooth pulled,” he told viewers afterward. “There will be no pain at all.”
The woman, Lesya Yershova, said in an interview several months later that she had felt “terrible pain” throughout the operation, which required a 40-centimeter incision, and had only cooperated because she didn’t want to let Kashpirovsky down. She agreed to forego anesthesia because Kashpirovsky had promised to make her thinner and bring her along to his shows around the world as an example of his healing powers, she told the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta.
He didn’t keep his promise, she said.
Kashpirovsky’s claims of supernatural powers soon drew comparisons with the 20th-century healer Rasputin, whose malign influence on the family of Tsar Nicholas II sparked accusations that he was meddling in affairs of state and contributed to the collapse of Russia’s war effort in 1917 and the ultimate downfall of its monarchy. Rasputin was said to ease the pain of the tsar’s hemophiliac son simply by talking to him.
A former weightlifter and a trained psychologist, Kashpirovsky has largely retreated from the spotlight since the 1990s. In 2009, with Russia reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis, he sought to stage a comeback of sorts by launching a TV show devoted to “paranormal investigations.” But in a country where there’s no shortage of such offerings — a show called Battle Of The Psychics is now in its 20th season — his star soon faded again.
In 2010, shortly after he announced that comeback, Kashpirovsky — who did not immediately respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment — launched his YouTube channel. Since then he has posted videos from auditorium shows performed in various countries, where he meets with locals and members of Russian emigre communities who pay money in hopes of being healed. The videos are posted with titles like Instantaneous Cure For A Slipped Disc and Salvation From Pain.
In a video he posted last August, an elderly man who appears to have a heavily curved spine walks across a stage in Taraz, Kazakhstan, to meet Kashpirovsky, before disappearing backstage. Minutes later he runs back onstage, waving his arms in triumph to rapturous applause from the audience, his back seemingly healed.
Кашпировский. Мгновенное избавление от спинно-мозговой грыжи.
The coronavirus pandemic appears to have drawn new attention to Kashpirovsky as it spreads in Russia, where the numbers of confirmed cases have risen sharply in recent days and President Vladimir Putin said on April 13 that the situation was “changing for the worse.”
Viewership of Kashpirovsky’s YouTube channel has risen substantially in recent weeks: His March 25 monologue — titled Coronavirus. Its Pluses And Minuses — has almost half a million views.
As he spoke during his “healing seance” on April 9, a scrolling text chat displayed comments from viewers.
“My tinnitus has completely gone,” one woman wrote. Another reported that a chronic neck pain had passed within three minutes. “I’ve believed in you since 1989,” wrote a third — though it was unclear whether in earnest or in jest.
After 53 minutes, Kashpirovsky signed off with a message to gullible viewers.
“Our meeting will naturally provoke in you an explosion in your immune system, which will protect you,” he said. “I crave that from the bottom of my soul.”
Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, Marine Lt. Travis Manion, and Navy SEAL Brendan Looney. All three were killed in service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.
Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.
Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.
Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.
My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”
The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.
Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.
I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.
But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.
But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.
Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.
And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.
As Amy said the night before the funeral:
I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?
But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.
Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.
Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.
Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.
“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”
Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.
(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.
Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.
Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:
They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.
Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”
Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.
“Learning space by doing space” is the motto of the Air Force Academy’s unique FalconSAT senior capstone engineering program, a program unlike any other undergraduate space program in the world.
Each year Astro Department faculty, aided by experts from other departments, NCOs, technicians and contractors, provide cadets with the real hands-on experience of designing, building, testing, and launching and operating satellites for the Air Force.
FalconSAT’s roots trace back to the early 1980s when the first cadet experiments were designed for space shuttle missions. These later morphed into balloon-launched testbeds and small payloads followed by free-flying satellites launched in the early 2000s. Since the mid-2000s, the Air Force Research Lab has sponsored the FalconSAT program, providing funding and payloads to give cadets this unique opportunity. Each FalconSAT has included payloads intended to provide flight heritage and experimental data to researchers at AFRL, the Academy, NASA, Air Force Space Command and major contractors.
U.S. Air Force Academy cadets clean the components of the FalconSat-6 satellite they and their instructors built at the Academy at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The satellite successfully launched into space Dec. 3, 2018 from Vandenberg.
FalconSAT experience is invaluable to the development of future Air Force leaders. Graduates of the program have earned numerous nationally competitive scholarships, including two Rhodes scholarships and three Holaday Fellowships in the last 15 years, and have gone on to do similar work at the Space and Missile Systems Center, the AFRL, National Reconnaissance Office, and in operational space and rated duties. Many cite their real-world FalconSAT lessons as the best, most effective preparation for active duty that they received during their cadet career.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
If you’ve ever seen some of the DOD videos – or photos, for that matter – from Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re often accompanied by huge clouds of dust as helicopters come in for a landing.
But here’s what you don’t see; the damage the sand and dust does on the engines of those helicopters.
That matters – because the engines of helicopters and jets have one naturally-occurring enemy: FOD, which stands for “foreign object debris.” According to an FAA fact sheet, FOD was responsible for the June 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 people.
What the fact sheet doesn’t mention is that sand and dust are also foreign objects to an engine. What they do isn’t as spectacular as what happened in Paris almost 17 years ago, but it can be just as lethal.
Worse, while regular FOD walks can handle the larger objects, you can never quite get all the sand and dust away from an air base in Afghanistan or Iraq. So, there is a need to figure out how to keep the sand and dust from damaging engine components.
The Department of Defense recently released a video about efforts to address this. For instance, one of the researchers in this video one component in the T-700 engine is supposed to last 6,000 hours, but sand and dust reduce that to 400 hours – 1/15 of the planned operating life.
The price tag for the component in question? $30,000. That is a minor inconvenience. When a helo goes down, things get even uglier.
So check out the new ways researchers are attacking the problem of sand-damaged engines.
After a routine training run in Alpena County, Michigan in late July, US Air National Guard Capt. Brett DeVries survived the perfect storm of malfunctions to safely land his A-10 Thunderbolt II on its belly without the benefit of landing gear.
During a training exercise where A-10 pilots practice dropping inert bombs and ripping the planes’ massive gun, DeVries’ gun malfunctioned. Moments later, his canopy blew off his plane as he flew along at 375 miles an hour, according to a US Air National Guard write up of the event.
The incredible winds smacked DeVries head against his seat, nearly incapacitating him. “It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”
DeVries wingman, Major Shannon Vickers, then flew under his plane to assess the damage, finding bad news. The panels under his plane had been damaged, and it was unclear if he would be able to lower his landing gear.
Meanwhile, DeVries struggled against the wind and having everything loose in his cockpit. He could no longer benefit from checklists, which had become a liability that could now potentially fly out and get stuck in his engine.
DeVries, having the flight from hell, had two of his radios go down and had to communicate with Vickers and flight control on his third backup system. They worked together to find him a nearby spot to land and Vickers observed that DeVries would not in fact be able to use his landing gear.
“I just thought, ‘There is no way this is happening right now.’ It all was sort of surreal, but at the same time, we were 100 percent focused on the task ahead of us,” Vickers said.
Miraculously, thanks to the meticulous training A-10 pilots undergo and the incredibly rugged design of the plane, DeVries walked away unscathed, and maintainers will be able to fix the plane.
While cyber-attacks do not kill humans outright in the way the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did, they degrade the faith of Americans in their political systems and infrastructure in a way that could devastate the country and that furthers the foreign-policy goals of the US’s adversaries.
“When Americans have lost trust in their electoral system, or their financial system, or the security of their grid, then we’re gonna be in big trouble,” Eric Rosenbach, a former US Army intelligence officer who served as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s chief of staff, said July 13 at the Defense One Tech Summit.
‘A failure of deterrence’
The US has long relied on the concept of deterrence, or discouraging nation-states from taking action against the US because of the perceived consequences, for protection.
“Deterrence is based on perception,” Rosenbach said. “When people think they can do something to you and get away with it, they’re much more likely to do it.”
While the US conducts cyber-operations, especially offensives, as secretly as possible, mounting evidence suggests that the US has not fought back against hacks by adversarial countries as strongly as possible.
After receiving intelligence reports that Russia had been trying to hack into US election systems to benefit Donald Trump, President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop and brought up the possibility of US retaliation.
A former senior Obama administration official told The Washington Post earlier this year that the US’s muted response to the 2016 hacking was “the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend.”
“I feel like we sort of choked,” the official said.
The Post also found that Obama administration’s belief that Hillary Clinton would win the election prompted it to respond less forcefully than it might have.
While the attacks on vital US voting systems and nuclear power plants highlight recent failures of deterrence, Russia has been sponsoring cyber-crimes against the US for years.
“The Russians, and a lot of other bad guys, think that they can get away with putting malware in our grid, manipulating our elections, and doing a lot of other bad things and get away with it,” Rosenbach said. “Because they have.”
In physical war, the US deters adversaries like Russia with nuclear arms. In cyberspace, no equivalent measure exists. With the complicated nature of attributing cyber-crimes to their culprits, experts disagree on how to best deter Russia, but Rosenbach stressed that the US needed to take “bold” action.
While Rosenbach doesn’t find it likely that Russia would seek to take down the US’s grid in isolation, he pointed out that the nuclear-plant intrusions gave Russia incredible leverage over the US in a way that could flip the deterrence equation, with the US possibly fearing that its actions might anger Russia.
Russia’s malware attacks have been so successful, Rosenbach says, that the next time the US moves against Russia’s interests, fear of future attacks could “cause the US to change course.” The US losing its ability to conduct an independent foreign policy would be a grave defeat for the world’s foremost superpower.
The language requiring the draft for women was added in committee and received little debate on the Senate floor, but has created a firestorm of controversy on and off Capitol Hill. It comes as the military services welcome women into previously closed ground combat units in keeping with a mandate from Defense Secretary Ash Carter given late last year.
“It is my personal view that based on this lifting of restriction for assigning [job specialties], that every American that is physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller said at the time.
In the House, which previously passed its version of the NDAA, an amendment requiring women to register for the draft passed narrowly with a 32-30 vote, even though its author, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, voted against it.
“I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Francisco and conservative families who pray three times a day,” Hunter said April 27, as the House Armed Services Committee marked up the bill. “Neither of them want their daughter to be drafted.”
The Senate proposal was hotly debated on the floor June 7 by Republicans Ted Cruz, from Texas, and John McCain, from Arizona.
Cruz complained that the provision including women in the draft entered the bill through committee, rather than in public, open debate.
“I’m the father of two daughters. Women can do anything they set their mind to, and I see that each and every day,” Cruz said. “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little or no sense. It is at minimum a radical proposition. I could not vote for a bill that did so without public debate.”
McCain countered that including women in the draft was a matter of equality.
“Women who I have spoken to in the military overwhelmingly believe that women are not only qualified, but are on the same basis as their male counterparts,” McCain said. “Every leader of the United States military seems to have a different opinion from [Cruz], whose military background is not extensive.”
Currently, U.S. law requires most male citizens and immigrants between the ages of 18 to 25 to register in the selective service system. The Senate NDAA would require all female citizens and U.S. residents who turn 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register as well.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced an amendment that would have removed the draft language from the bill, but it was unsuccessful. Another Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, filed an amendment that would have gotten rid of the draft altogether, but it too failed to get traction.
The House and Senate must now reconcile their versions of the NDAA in conference before final passage.