U.S. officials are claiming that looming sanctions are putting economic pressure on Iran and helping to stir up street protests, with President Donald Trump saying he expects the economic “pain” to force Tehran to seek a deal with Washington.
“I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing. But I will tell you this, at a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. They’re feeling a lot of pain right now,” Trump said at a news conference in Brussels on July 12, 2018.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while attending a NATO summit in the Belgian capital, have been pushing European allies to increase the economic pain in Tehran by supporting the U.S. sanctions, which are due to go into effect on Nov. 4, 2018.
“We ask our allies and partners to join our economic pressure campaign against Iran’s regime,” Pompeo said in a tweet before meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
But Europe’s biggest economic powers — France, Germany, and Britain — have pledged to try to counteract the U.S. sanctions as part of their efforts to keep honoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018 and announced the reinstatement of U.S. sanctions.
Pompeo has pointed to the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany in connection with an alleged plot to bomb a gathering of Iranian expatriates in Paris in trying to convince U.S. allies to join the Washington’s pressure campaign on Tehran.
“There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence, and instability in one of our countries next,” he tweeted. “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars.”
During a visit to Dubai on July 12, 2018, Sigal P. Mandelker, a U.S. Treasury undersecretary, said the economic pressures on Iran were helping fuel street protests and should prompt Tehran to stop what she called its “malign activities” in the Middle East.
“You’ve seen the Iranian people, of course, stand up loudly, at risk of their own lives, shouting in protest about the corruption that’s happening within Iran,” Mandelker said. “So much money has gone to support malign activities elsewhere, with very little focus on the economy itself.”
Iran’s support for the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hizballah, Shi’ite rebels in Yemen, and embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all represent a “despicable use of Iranian revenue,” she said.
Since the United States moved to reimpose sanctions on Iran, the Iranian rial has plummeted to 78,500 to the dollar, nearly half the official exchange rate, while unemployment has remained high.
Economic protests swept the Iranian countryside at the end of 2017 and have occurred in recent weeks as well. Wildcat strikes and demonstrations have also erupted over water scarcity.
Promised billion-dollar deals with Western firms that emerged after the nuclear deal was signed have evaporated in recent weeks, with businesses citing worries about being penalized by the U.S. sanctions and cut out of the U.S. consumer market if they continue to operate in Iran.
Reuters reported that Iranian oil exports to India, Iran’s second largest customer for crude, fell by 16 percent in May 2018 as privately owned refineries cut back purchases even as state refineries increased purchases from Iran.
After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 12, 2018, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser said Russian firms are prepared to fill in for some of the loss of business.
“Putin said that Russia is prepared to continue its oil investment in Iran at the level of billion. It means Russia is ready to invest this amount in Iran’s oil sector,” Ali Akbar Velayati told Iranian state television.
“This is an important amount that can compensate for those companies that have left Iran,” he said.
Velayati claimed that one of Russia’s major oil companies has signed a billion deal with Iran, which he said “will be implemented soon,” without elaborating.
“Two other major Russian oil companies, Rosneft and Gazprom, have started talks with Iran’s Oil Ministry to sign contracts worth up to billion,” he said.
Mandelker said the Trump administration was aiming to “very significantly reduce” Iran’s crude oil exports. She said the administration also wants to make sure allies shut off financial avenues Tehran could use to evade the sanctions.
“The world needs to be wise to the ways in which they move deceptively,” she said.
However, limiting Iran’s ways of evading sanctions could prove difficult in the Persian Gulf region. The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), in particular, has a large ethnically Persian population and a long history of trade with Iran.
Iran has already exploited the U.A.E.’s free economic zones to set up companies to acquire otherwise-prohibited materials, and a recent report found that Dubai’s luxury real-estate market offers a money-laundering haven for Iranians.
Moreover, Dubai has traditionally served as a hub for exports to Iran, with data showing such exports totaled .9 billion in 2017.
Despite these extensive ties, Mandelker said Washington has an “excellent partnership” with the U.A.E. and that “there’s no question in my mind that working together, we can take significant action to disrupt [Iran’s] ability to fund themselves.”
“I walked over to the NCO of my starting lane for land navigation and I asked him, ‘Hey sergeant, do you want me to line up behind you?'” said DeMarsico as he recalled the first time he participated in Expert Field Medical Badge qualification testing. “He said, ‘I need your name and roster number.’ I did not think anything of it at the time so I went out and found all four of my points. When I came back he told me I was going to be an administrative ‘no-go’ for the lane because I spoke to him.”
Recently promoted U.S. Army Spc. Thomas DeMarsico, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Polk, first attempted to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge at Fort Bliss, Texas. The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division hosted the special qualification testing in September 2019.
“I attempted to rebut the decision with the board because AR 350-10 says you cannot talk to other candidates during land nav, not the cadre,” DeMarsico said. “The board denied my rebuttal. That was it; they just dropped me. I was super crushed after that. I decided at that moment I was done with EFMB and the Army.”
Similar to the expert infantry badge, the EFMB is not an easy badge to earn. Combat medics wanting to earn the coveted badge must be physically and mentally prepared to undergo rigorous testing after being recommended by their unit commanders.
Fort Polk’s 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div medics on temporary duty in the Fort Bliss area were invited to participate in EFMB qualification testing. When DeMarsico found out he had the opportunity to attend the testing he immediately volunteered.
U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Thomas F. DeMarsico, a combat medic assigned to headquarters and headquarters company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Divsion at Fort Polk, Louisiana, poses with his new expert field medical badge in El Paso, Texas, Oct. 6, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Ashley Morris)
“I always take every opportunity that comes my way,” DeMarsico said. “I know that EFMB really sets you apart from your peers.”
EFMB candidates must successfully receive a “go” on all five sections of EFMB testing: The Army Physical Fitness Test, a written test, land navigation, combat testing lanes and a 12-mile forced march.
Candidates must receive a score of 80% or higher in each event of the APFT and be in compliance with Army height and weight standards. The only re-testable section is the written test in which candidates must successfully answer 60 out of 80 questions.
On the second day of testing soldiers must receive a “go” for both day and night land navigation. During the combat testing lanes medics must complete 43 tasks correctly: 10 tactical combat casualty care tasks, 10 evacuation tasks, 13 warrior skills tasks and five communication tasks.
After learning that his leadership tried to get him readmitted to the Fort Bliss qualification, DeMarsico realized that accepting defeat was not an option.
“I felt so much better knowing that they had my back,” Demarisco said. “They were willing to send us again so I was willing to try again.”
DeMarsico was afforded the opportunity to test again, this time at Fort Hood, Texas. DeMarsico, along with three other medics from 2nd Bn, 4th Inf Reg,were sent to Fort Hood to attend EFMB qualification hosted by 1st Medical Brigade. Standardization of the combat testing lanes began Sept. 23, 2019, with testing beginning Sept. 28, 2019, and ending with the forced march on Oct. 4, 2019.
One hundred and fifty-five soldiers started the event. DeMarsico was one of six medics that successfully earned the EFMB. He was the only junior enlisted to successfully complete the qualification.
DeMarsico attributed his success to lane standardization he received at Fort Bliss.
“We tried to train up for the Bliss EFMB but it was hard to tell exactly how the lanes would be run,” DeMarsico said. “After seeing the lanes at Bliss we knew how to study. I knew what I needed to work on. It helped me a lot.”
Although DeMarsico said he felt confident about the combat testing lanes, there was another area where he did not feel as confident. A self-proclaimed land navigation expert, DeMarsico admitted the night land navigation course was tough.
U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Thomas F. DeMarsico, a combat medic assigned to headquarters and headquarters company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Divsion at Fort Polk, Louisiana, checks to make sure his compass is calibrated prior to the start of land navigation testing for the expert field medical badge on Fort Bliss, Texas, Sep. 6, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Ashley Morris)
The first time DeMarsico went through EFMB testing he was only able to complete day land navigation. With limited experience in navigating in the dark and a difference in terrain, DeMarsico was only able to find three out of the four points. Even though it was not a perfect score, it was enough for him to advance to the combat testing lanes. Out of the 155 that begin EFMB testing, only 19 medics passed land navigation testing.
During the final event of EFMB, nine soldiers started the forced march but only six finished within the required three hour time limit. DeMarsico came in first place. For most soldiers, coming in first during a timed 12-mile ruck march would feel like the crowning achievement. For DeMarsico, he felt frustration.
“My time was two hours and 56 seconds!” DeMarsico said. “Me and this major were in the lead the entire time, far ahead of everyone else. At the 11th mile marker point, the private giving directions told us to go down the wrong road. The major went a mile down that road with me trailing behind him. Luckily he had a GPS watch that told him he had hit 12 miles. He turned around, grabbed me and we went back to the 11-mile point. The private could not tell us the correct way to go. I walked into traffic and flagged down a car and asked him for directions to Cooper Field. The car drove slowly in front of us with the hazard lights and we followed him. Once I saw the finish line I sprinted to the end and came in first.”
Although he was unhappy with his finish time for the 12-mile ruck march, DeMarsico said he was thankful he was able to pass all five events of EFMB testing. He said becoming a part of the 3% of medics who earn the EFMB is just the beginning. He hopes to attend Airborne and Ranger schools in the near future. Ultimately he would like to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and become a commissioned officer.
“West Point is my main goal,” DeMarsico said. “I want to become an officer. I feel like if I can earn my EFMB then nothing is impossible. I devote my spare time to achieving my professional goals so I am always looking for ways to improve myself.”
Hungry for more training, DeMarsico is preparing to attend the advanced combat life saver course on Fort Bliss.
“You have to want it,” said DeMarsico when asked if he had any advice for soldiers attending future EFMB testing. “Many of the people that I saw did not have the drive that is required to pass. You have to be physically and mentally prepared. The EFMB website has so much information to help you study so you have to develop a way that will help you memorize information the easiest.”
DeMarsico encourages all soldiers to keep trying no matter how many times they have to retest.
“I was proud to represent the brigade, 10th Mountain, 2-4 Infantry and my recon platoon,” DeMarsico said. “I showed that it is not impossible for a junior enlisted to have a shot an EFMB. It does not matter who you are; you can do it. At the end of the day it all comes down to how hard you are willing to fight for it.”
The guilty verdict of former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” brought the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) a step closer to its closure, but for many of his victims, it did little to ease the pain.
The 75-year-old former Bosnian Serb general was sentenced on November 22 to life imprisonment after being found guilty on 10 of 11 charges, including one guilty verdict of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 conflict that tore the former Yugoslavia apart.
Victims both outside the court, which winds down at the end of this year, and back in Bosnia-Herzegovina applauded the result, even though some felt that justice could never be served for the man responsible for thousands of deaths during the conflict.
Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić are indicted for genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995. (Image UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Flickr)
“None of us here expected anything else. But there is something I am not satisfied with. I am not satisfied with the verdict that [Ratko Mladic] is not guilty in Count One of the indictment [related specifically to genocide in Bosnian towns and villages],” said Munir Habibovic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, as she stood in the Potocari cemetery and memorial center just outside Srebrenica.
Mladic, who insisted he was innocent of all of the charges, had managed to escape prosecution for 16 years until his arrest in Serbia in May 2011 and extradition to The Hague.
A survivor of multiple strokes, Mladic was visibly frail when the trial began in 2012. During the rendering of the verdict, his lawyers asked for a halt in the proceedings due to the accused’s high blood pressure.
After the request was denied, a visibly agitated Mladic, who defiantly opened the trial by saying, “I want my enemies, and there are many, to drop dead because I am still alive,” rose in the dock and began shouting at the court that he didn’t feel well before being removed from the room.
Moments later, Mladic was found guilty of commanding forces responsible for crimes including the worst atrocities of the war: the deadly three-year siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. He was found not guilty of genocide in some other Bosnian towns and villages.
Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, at his trial judgement at the ICTY. (Image UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Flickr)
“I’m partially satisfied. It’s more than for Karadzic. But they didn’t find him guilty for the accusation of genocide in some villages,” said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association.
The crimes committed rank among the “most heinous known to humankind,” and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity, Presiding Judge Alphons Orie said in reading out a summary of the judgment.
“He deserves much more severe punishment,” said one survivor, who lost her children and husband, in a live interview with the BBC outside The Hague-based court after the verdict was handed down.
“He needs to be tortured,” she said. “He’ll be fine in prison, but he needs to suffer like our children did.”
Given the gravity of the offenses, Mladic’s case became one of the highest-profile war crimes trials since the Nuremberg trials of Germany’s Nazi leadership after World War II.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the conviction a “momentous victory for justice.”
“Mladic is the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” Zeid said in a statement.
“Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take.”
Mladic’s lawyer and his son both said the verdict would be appealed and that Mladic has been denied his “basic human rights” by not being allowed to see doctors of his own choice.
The reaction in Serbia was mixed, in a country that is trying to move toward the European Union but still has strong nationalist tendencies.
President Aleksandar Vucic urged his compatriots to look to the future rather than “suffocating in tears of the past.”
In the small Serbian village of Lazarevo, where Mladic was finally apprehended, residents dismissed a court they said has sought to solely blame Serbs for the crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflict.
The AP quoted villager Igor Topolic as saying he was “horrified and saddened” by the verdict and called Mladic “a Serbian national hero.”
22 November 2017 – Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, at his trial judgement at the ICTY. (Image UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Flickr)
With the Mladic verdict rendered, the ICTY next week will make its ruling on the appeals of former Bosnian Croat leader Jadranko Prlic and five other Bosnian Croats.
Prlic, now 57, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of murdering and deporting Muslims during the war.
After that, the ICTY will close its doors.
The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, MICT, will take over the remaining cases along with domestic courts, particularly the Bosnian state court.
Ah, springtime. It’s almost that beautiful time of year again.
Junior enlisted are happy, NCOs are yelling at them to downgrade to the summer PT uniform, and sergeant majors can finally see their beloved grass before a dumb butter bar walks on it. Rumor has it that the warrant officer might have even come out of hibernation!
For once, things are optimistic. Pizza MREs are coming, the Army is getting its Pinks and Greens back, and a sweet pay increase is coming. So, take it easy. Relax. Enjoy the smell of freshly cut memes.
13. Every. Single. Time.
12. “What are they going to do? Kick me out — oh…”
11. Holding random clipboards or putting your cellphone up to your ear also works.
10. We get enough opinions from the “Good Idea Fairy;” we don’t need anymore.
9. The beard comes standard with every DD-214.
8. Any troop who says they haven’t had to open an MRE packet with their mouth is a damn liar.
7. Perfect, until you drop something…
6. Will Gunny ever relax? Will we ever find the WO? Tune in next week.
5. They’re not mutually exclusive.
4. Eye for an eye. Next time they try to miss formation and lie about being “at dental,” get their asses.
3. If Big Army took the same approach, maybe everyone would get their SSD1 done.
The seemingly endless appearances of “ghost ships” full of dead North Koreans on the shores of Japan is indicative of Kim Jong Un’s weakening grip over his citizens, experts say.
The latest took place, when a capsized boat containing the decayed remains of seven bodies washed ashore in Kanazawa, a city on Japan’s west coast.
A badge portraying former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il was also found nearby.
It was the second such discovery in Japan in January 2018.
The number of ghost ships — vessels discovered with no living crew — reached 104 in 2017, the highest since authorities started collecting data in 2013, Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted the national coast guard as saying.
It remains unclear exactly who these people were, or why they showed up in Japan — experts have posited theories including food insecurity in North Korea, annual quotas imposed on fishermen, and a deal for fishing rights between North Korea and China.
A new theory suggested to Business Insider is that the increasing arrivals of these boats indicate Kim Jong Un’s weakening grip over his country and its people.
It came from Professor Hazel Smith, a researcher at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London.
North Korea, notoriously, tightly controls its borders to prevent defections. Soldiers opened fire on one of their own who was caught in the act of defecting to South Korea in November 2017.
The army also plants landmines on various spots around its border — including the west coast — to prevent citizens from leaving and invaders from entering.
Smith, who lived in North Korea from 1998 to 2001, told Business Insider (BI):
“Security is disintegrating. There was always an incentive for people to get hold of a boat to try to fish and come back and sell it and make some money, but security was always extremely tight on the coasts.
“You had mined beaches, you had surveillance on the coast, so the fact that this is happening is not a surprise economically — people are taking the opportunities while they can — but what it shows also is the disintegration of the state’s ability to stop people going out in boats.”
She added that previously, obtaining boats was seen as a highly risky issue, and that only people with high security clearance could access them.
“Going to sea in any way was seen as first and foremost a political issue, not an economic issue, because individuals were so controlled,” she said.
What’s changed now is the fact that North Korea doesn’t have the “capacity” to control its borders as tightly as before due to other, more pressing concerns — such as the country’s nuclear development and continuous, crippling international sanctions, Smith said.
She said: “They’ve only got the capacity to focus on certain aspects of state activity at a time now. They’re focusing on the nuclear issue, and they don’t have the capacity to focus on every aspect of economic activity, and they don’t have the money to feed people, so they have to let people do their own thing.”
She previously told BI it was “a lot easier” to bypass the country’s security apparatus now than it 20 years ago, because some security officials are willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for profits if someone comes back with a catch.
The sheer number of the boats appearing in recent years also suggests that people were leaving North Korea as part of small enterprises rather than a monolithic state enterprise, another expert observed.
It points to an opening of the North Korean economy, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an editor at North Korean Economy Watch.
He told BI: “It may tell us something about the extent to which economic activity has been liberalised, but also put under pressure.
“In other words, companies run with relative freedom by individuals may have increased space to operate, but in some cases, they may also receive quotas to fill by the state or other government entities.
“In the case of the ghost ships, while their circumstances aren’t fully known, the pressure to meet quotas could explain why they need to venture further out into the ocean searching for their catch, perhaps not with adequate fuel resources on board.”
Smith added: “It looks like state priorities over vessels have either broken down or been allowed to lapse in order to permit people to go out and find ways to engage in trade to make a bit of money, which is a change.
“It might not be a major change, but it is a change in the way that the government approaches economic activity. It’s less security-focused.”
The United States Navy has a history of honoring women – one that goes way back to 1776, when a row galley was named for Martha Washington (George’s wife). Currently, seven Navy ships named for women are in active service with the United States Navy, and an eighth is on the way. Here’s a rundown on these ships:
The destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with a total of 90 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standard missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets. She also has eight RGM-84 Harpoons in two Mk 141 launchers, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, and two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes.
In January, 2008, the Hopper was one of several U.S. Navy warships that had close encounters with Iranian speedboats.
2. USS Roosevelt (DDG 80)
This Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named in honor of both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady for 12 years, then served as a diplomat and spokesperson for the United Nations.
The destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total of 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters.
According to a 2006 US Navy release, the Roosevelt and the Dutch Frigate De Zeven Provincien took part in an attempted rescue of a South Korean fishing vessel captured by pirates. In 2014, the DOD reported the destroyer took part in delivering a rogue oil tanker to Libyan authorities.
3. USNS Sacagawea (T AKE 2)
This Lewis and Clark class replenishment ship was named for Sacagawea, the Native American woman who guided the expedition lead by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark across the Louisiana Purchase. A previous USS Sacagawea (YT 326) was a harbor tug that served from 1925 to 1945.
The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Sacagawea carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels. She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.
In 2013, the Sacagawea took part in Freedom Banner 2013 as part of the Maritime Prepositioning Force.
4. USNS Amelia Earhart (T AKE 6)
The first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart was one of the few women who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 under unknown circumstances. DANFS notes that a Liberty Ship was previously named for the famous aviator.
The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Amelia Earhart carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels. She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.
DANFS notes that on Nov. 20, 2014, the Amelia Earhart collided with USNS Walter S. Diehl (T AO 193).
5. USNS Mary Sears (T AGS 65)
Mary Sears was the first Oceanographer of the Navy during World War II. According to the website for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, her research on thermoclines saved many American submariners’ lives by enabling our subs to hide from enemy forces.
Fittingly, the U.S. Navy named the Pathfinder-class oceanographic research vessel USNS Mary Sears in her honor. The 5,000-ton vessel has a top speed of 16 knots, and carries a number of sensors for her mission. In 2007, the Mary Sears helped locate the “black boxes” from a missing airliner.
6. USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10)
Former Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — whose husband is astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly — served for five years before resigning her seat in the aftermath of an assassination attempt.
The Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords has a 57mm gun, four .50-caliber machine guns, and a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. The vessel can carry two MH-60 helicopters and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles.
The ship just entered service in December, 2016, and had a cameo in Larry Bond’s 2016 novel, Red Phoenix Burning, where it was rammed by a Chinese frigate, suffering moderate damage.
7. USNS Sally Ride (T AGOR 28)
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, flying on two Space Shuttle missions (missing a third after the Challenger exploded during launch), who died after a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2012.
A sister ship, the USNS Neil Armstrong (T AGOR 27), named for the first person to walk on the moon, is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.
8. USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123)
Lenah Higbee was the first woman to receive the Navy Cross – being recognized for her service as Superintendant of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in World War I. She was recognized with a Gearing-class destroyer in 1945, according to DANFS, that saw action in the last months of World War II.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee will have a 5-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total on 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters when she enters service. MarineLog.com reported in January that construction of the destroyer had started.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
A Russian cruise missile that the country touted as having “practically unlimited” range appears to be falling short, sources with knowledge of a US intelligence report told CNBC.
The cruise missile, which Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled at a Russian Federal Assembly in March 2018, only flew for around two minutes and traveled 22 miles before it lost control and crashed, CNBC reported May 21, 2018. Another missile test reportedly lasted just four seconds with a distance of five miles.
Russia tested the missile four times between November 2017, and February 2018, at the behest of senior officials, even though engineers voiced doubt over the program, according to CNBC’s sources.
Putin previously touted a new generation of weapons in a presentation that displayed missile trajectories going from Russia to the US. In addition to the cruise missile, Putin teased unmanned underwater drones purportedly capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and a hypersonic glide vehicle.
“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,” Putin said in a speech. “You have failed to contain Russia.”
Russia’s cruise missile capabilities may have missed the mark, but sources said it succeeded in other aspects. The hypersonic glide vehicle, which is believed to be able to travel five times the speed of sound, would render US countermeasures useless and could become operational by 2020, according to CNBC.
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” US Air Force General John Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The comments came just a day after an off-the-record meeting the President-elect had with media executives and on-air personalities, in which he said “he believes it is time to have someone from the military as secretary of defense,” according to Politico.
If Trump were to stick with that view, then that means the field of potential candidates has gotten much thinner.
There were a number of names initially floated, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Both Flynn and Sessions have accepted other positions within the administration, while Talent is apparently still in the running, according to The Washington Post.
Trump met with Mattis on Saturday for about an hour to discuss the position. Not much is known about what they talked about, but Trump did ask the general about the use of waterboarding and was surprised that Mattis was against it.
Afterward, Trump tweeted that Mattis was “very impressive” and called him a “true General’s General.”
Besides receiving praise from Trump himself, Mattis has been receiving near-universal praise in national security circles and among some of the DC elite. Syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham, a Trump backer who spoke at the Republican Convention, said on Twitter that he was the “best candidate.”
And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a ringing endorsement of Mattis on Monday.
“General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops,” McCain wrote in his statement. “I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”
Mattis did have some competition from another retired general — Army. Gen. Jack Keane — who was apparently offered the job, but Keane declined it for personal reasons, according to NPR. When asked who Trump should choose instead, Keane gave two names: David Petraeus and James Mattis.
While both would seem a good fit for Defense Secretary, picking Petraeus would likely be a much harder one to get confirmed. Congress seems likely to grant Mattis a waiver of the requirement of a seven-year gap between military service and the civilian defense job, but Petraeus would bring plenty of baggage to a confirmation hearing. That would include a sex scandal and charges of sharing classified information, for which he received a $100,000 fine and two years of probation.
According to people familiar with Trump’s deliberations who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, Mattis is the most likely candidate.
Mattis, 66, is something of a legendary figure in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.
The former four-star general retired in 2013 after leading Marines for 44 years. His last post was with US Central Command, the Tampa, Florida-based unified command tasked with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than two-dozen other countries.
He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991 and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle, penning a must-read letterto his troops before they crossed the border into Iraq.
A number of defense secretaries who served under President Barack Obama have criticized him for his supposed “micromanagement.” Even Mattis himself was reportedly forced into early retirement by the Obama administration due to his hawkish views on Iran, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy.
Whoever is ultimately picked, the next head of the Pentagon will oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel and face myriad challenges, from the ongoing fight against ISIS and China’s moves in the South China Sea to the ongoing stress on the military imposed by sequestration.
The next defense secretary may also end up dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Russia is very likely to test limits in eastern Europe. The secretary will also need to reinvigorate a military plagued by low morale.
Mattis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.
“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.
But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.
Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.
So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.
In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.
Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.
Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.
It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.
“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.
In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.
The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.
Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”
Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.
“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”
That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.
But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.
Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.
He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.
Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.
“I found out about the airborne,” he said.
Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.
At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.
He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.
Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.
He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.
“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.
Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.
Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.
That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.
In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.
When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.
“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”
Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.
“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.
He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.
“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”
In the ongoing game of raising and lowering tensions on Russia’s doorstep, the United States Navy has once again raised eyebrows in the Black Sea. This time, it’s defending a number of drills it conducted in the area as “essential.”
The exercises, called Sea Breeze 2021, weren’t a surprise to anyone. It was a scheduled series of exercises, complete with photos and video available on the publicly available Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). It even has its own Twitter account. The exercise has been held annually since 1997, according to the U.S. Navy.
But this year is a very different year, as tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the United States and its western allies have been mounting in recent months.
From June 28-July 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine hosted the massive sea drill, attended by 32 countries from six continents providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations and dive teams.
Earlier in 2021, as many as 30,000-60,000 Russian ground troops were massing on its border with Ukraine, leading many to believe that an invasion similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was imminent. The United States and the United Kingdom attempted to move naval forces into the area as a show of support, which only angered the Russian government, increasing the tension there.
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and much of the large Russian force was withdrawn but not before the United States was forced to keep its naval forces away from the Crimean Peninsula. Even so, British and Dutch forces came in contact with Russian forces in potentially explosive confrontations.
When the long-planned Sea Breeze 2021 exercises kicked off, Russia condemned them as a military provocation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the western forces there risked provoking the Russians.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov even said the western ships “would be better off leaving their provocations aside next time and staying away from that area because they will get clocked in the nose.”
The Black Sea is just another front in the ongoing conflict over Ukraine, and Russia’s dwindling sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. While Black Sea waters are an important area for Russia’s foreign trade, the Russian bear also uses its influence there to choke Ukraine’s trading capabilities.
U.S. Navy officials say the Sea Breeze exercises are an essential element in deterring Russian aggression toward its former Soviet client states, especially ones like Ukraine who believe their future lies with the West. Ukraine is still fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern portion of its border areas.
Meanwhile, as Sea Breeze 2021 continued, Russia began its own series of naval and air exercises, which included air-to-air refueling, strategic missile carriers and air defense systems. These were all designed to counter what Russia believes is an attempt to establish new military installations closer to Ukraine, a threat to Russian sovereignty and something Vladimir Putin said he would not allow.
In a statement in July 2021, Putin told a gathering of reporters that in case of war between Russia and the West, Russia would prevail.
“They know they cannot win this conflict,” Putin said. “We would be fighting for our own territory; we didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to their borders, they did.”
Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance is the number one most requested capability by combat commanders and for more than a year enlisted airmen have been helping the Air Force meet this demand by piloting the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein has continually expressed the importance of the ISR force and finding innovative methods to relieve the pressure of getting commanders on the ground more data.
“Looking at new ways to operate within our [remotely piloted aircraft] enterprise is critical given that ISR missions continue to be the number one most requested capability by our combatant commanders. We expect that will only continue to expand,” said Goldfein. “We know our enlisted airmen are ready to take on this important mission as we determine the right operational balance of officer and enlisted in this ISR enterprise for the future.”
A RQ-4 Global Hawk taxis for take off from the Beale Air Force Base, Calif. June 14, 2018.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
In light of this, the Air Force selected 12 active-duty airmen last year to become RQ-4 pilots as part of the first Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, the first enlisted airmen to fly aircraft since 1942.
“I wasn’t expecting to be selected,” said Tech. Sgt. Courtney, an RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot who was part of the initial class. “It was a huge honor and I was extremely excited and nervous. I’m glad I applied, a lot of great opportunities have come from it and I’ve learned a lot more about the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) enterprise by being able to move to the pilot side.”
Courtney has been part of the ISR career field throughout her career. Over the years she’s filled several roles, including one as an imagery analyst and sensor operator for the MQ-1 Predator and the RQ-4, where she sat next to the pilot operating the aircraft’s camera during missions.
Enlisted pilots of the RQ-4 Global Hawk at Beale Air Force Base, Cali., are now flying operational missions after completing pilot training. These are the first enlisted Airmen to fly aircraft for the U.S. Air Force since 1942.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
She always wanted to be a pilot and was going through the process of applying for Officer Training School to come back and fly RPAs when this program was offered as an exclusive volunteer possibility by the Air Force.
Courtney says even though it’s unique paradigm shift to have officer and enlisted pilots training and flying side-by-side, the dynamic of operating and conducting a mission is no different than on any other airframe.
“It’s important because everybody’s opinion matters when you’re flying an aircraft or executing a mission,” said Courtney. “We’re trained and we’re expected to fill an expectation and a skill level of that crew position. So regardless of what the rank is, our job is to get the mission done and if the senior airman sensor operator has a better idea and it works and I agree with it, then that’s what we’ll go with. Rank doesn’t play a part when we’re executing the mission.” For RQ-4 pilots, there are a lot of missions.
In 2017, the Air Force was tasked with nearly 25,000 ISR missions, collecting 340,000 hours of full motion video and producing 2.55 million intelligence products — which averages almost five products per minute that close intelligence gaps and support target analysis and development.
The Enlisted Pilot Initial Class training was created to provide more pilots to the RQ-4 program and ensure the Air Force is able to keep up with the high demand for its ISR products.
But, training new pilots takes time as the RPA training program spans almost a full year. Airmen begin Initial Flight Training at Pueblo Memorial Airport in Pueblo, Colorado, where they learn to fly and complete a solo flight in a DA-20 Katana aircraft. After IFT, students progress through the RPA Instrument Qualification Course and RPA Fundamentals Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, and then Global Hawk Basic Qualification Training at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Maj. Michael, a remotely piloted aircraft fundamentals course instructor pilot, right, discusses a training mission utilizing the Predator Reaper Integrated Mission Environment simulator with Tech. Sgt. Ben, an enlisted pilot student, and Staff Sgt. James, a basic sensor operator course instructor at the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas Jul. 17, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
At the conclusion of this training airmen are rated, instrument-qualified pilots who are Federal Aviation Administration certified to fly the RQ-4 in national and international airspace and mission-qualified to execute the high altitude ISR mission.
“We pin their wings on them,” said Keith Pannabecker, a civilian simulator instructor at the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. “The creation of the career field was the best thing the Air Force could have done because it created an avenue for folks to volunteer. Beforehand, we were robbing Peter to pay Paul from the manned and unmanned airframes.”
Pannabecker, who is a retired Air Force colonel who helped with the inception of the RPA enterprise, thinks the Air Force is on track with a smart solution to a real problem, which is a shortage of pilots around the whole Air Force.
Keith Pannabecker, a remotely piloted aircraft qualification instructor pilot, left, monitors a training mission utilizing the T-6 Flight Simulator with Tech. Sgt. Ben, an enlisted RPA pilot student, at the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas Jul. 17, 2018.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
“We no longer pull pilots from the manned aircraft,” said Pannabecker. “Now, we’ve got our fresh group of motivated young people that are saying, please pick me to come be RPA pilots, which wasn’t always the case with asking for volunteers from the manned aircraft pilots. So, what we have now is a win-win.”
Since the graduation of the initial enlisted pilots in 2017, the Air Force added 30 more airmen into the training pipeline this year and plans to grow to 100 pilots by 2020. By then the Air Force expects nearly 70 percent of Global Hawk missions will be commanded by the “Flying Sergeants.”
“So, enlisted pilots are a very small force right now and we’ve relied on each other for information and we are each others’ shoulders to lean on,” said Courtney. “It’s going to take some time for enlisted pilots to integrate into the squadron and find the perfect flow, but we are very integrated into the mission.”
Remotely piloted aircraft qualification instructor pilots and student pilots review the training mission schedules of the the T-6 Flight Simulator at the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas Jul. 17, 2018.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Courtney said during February 2018 all RQ-4 missions in the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale were flown by enlisted pilots.
“I’m hopeful in the future for the enlisted pilots and an equal playing field, so we won’t be seen as enlisted or officer, but we’ll be seen simply as pilots,” said Courtney.
Courtney believes the only thing that matters is providing intelligence that’s vital to the men and women on the ground fighting every day.
“It’s something that I value and I appreciate. Being able to be the commander of those missions means a lot to me and I take it seriously,” said Courtney. “I have so much respect for the other men and women that fly alongside of me. I’m thankful I’m able to provide that protection and the extra level of intelligence that they need to get their mission done.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The Afghan Taliban gave a cool reception to President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of political recognition and a truce while representatives from more than 20 countries voiced support for his peace plan.
As he convened a conference of countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process on Feb. 28, 2018, Ghani had proposed a cease-fire, release of prisoners, the removal of sanctions, and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group.
“I call on Taliban and their leadership — today, the decision is in your hands. Accept peace — a dignified peace — come together to safeguard this country,” Ghani said.
“We are making this offer without any preconditions in order to pave the way for a peace agreement,” he said, insisting that Kabul “will consider the Taliban’s view in the peace talks.”
Participants in the one-day conference in Kabul issued a statement at the end that called on the Taliban to join the Afghan-led peace effort, “cease violence immediately,” and “pursue their goals through direct talks” with the Kabul government.
“A peace agreement will be a victory for all its parties and a defeat for none,” the statement said.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan also welcomed Ghani’s offer and said it “strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue.”
The Taliban, which was not invited to the conference, did not immediately respond. A Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that senior Taliban leaders were studying the proposal.
But dpa reported late on Feb. 28 that a statement on one of the Taliban’s websites was cool to the proposal. The statement said there was “no doubt” that Ghani had given “an excellent speech.” But the group said he had neglected a central point, according to dpa.
The Taliban statement said the main reason that the Afghan war continues is the presence of “foreign invading forces,” and peace talks would be meaningless until those forces exit Afghanistan, according to dpa.
“If Ashraf Ghani dreams of peace in the presence of the invaders, he must understand that such efforts have not resulted in anything in the past 17 years,” dpa quoted the Taliban statement as saying.
The Taliban has previously refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which it calls a “puppet regime,” while demanding the withdrawal of NATO forces before any peace talks can begin.
The Taliban recently said it would be willing to engage in talks with the United States, the largest contributor of troops to the 16-year war.
But Washington, which has been stepping up attacks on the Taliban under a new strategy aimed at forcing it to the negotiating table, insists that the Kabul government must play a lead role in the negotiations.
The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down almost immediately.