When Mykola Reshetnuk first heard the blasts at just after 3 in the morning, he just buried himself deeper in his blankets and stayed in bed. But with the deafening reports seeming to get closer and closer, the 57-year-old Ukrainian got worried and left. And with good reason.
Seconds later, a shell tore through his house.
Reshetnuk, a pensioner, doesn’t live in a war zone. Instead, he is one of around 12,000 residents forced out of their homes after ammunition stored at a military depot near the town of Ichnya, about 135 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, began exploding early on Oct. 9, 2018, sparking a huge blaze that the Defense Ministry suggested was the result of “military sabotage.”
After the deployment of repurposed tanks and aircraft to the scene, officials said on Oct. 11, 2018, that the depot fire had finally been “extinguished completely.”
“I rushed out. I was hiding over there, in a ditch,” he told RFE/RL one day earlier, motioning to the side of a nearby road spotted with rubble and debris. “Everything was blasting, exploding around me.”
Off in the distance, explosions periodically punctuated his words.
As the smoke clears from the blaze, Reshetnuk and others may be forgiven for feeling like they live in a combat zone.
Rows of houses for kilometers around the Chernihiv region depot bear the scars of incoming armaments that were launched by the heat of the blaze.
Charred frames of homes that were occupied just days ago continued to smolder as people returned to survey the damage.
A couple walked their bikes down one of the town’s narrow roads, careful to avoid the potholes from the hundreds of shells that rained down and now lay littered about the town.
“Did you get everything?” shouted one Emergency Services employee as crews armed with metal detectors and shovels scanned nearby yards after reports that some unexploded devices were still embedded in the ground.
They doubled back on his command, fearing the damage one overlooked hole in the ground could wreak on an unsuspecting victim. No casualties have been reported from the fire, and officials are hoping to keep it that way.
“From 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., we were hiding in the cellar. It was impossible to get out,” said Reshtnuk’s neighbor, Serhiy Ishchenko.
“We returned and the neighbor’s house and fence were in flames. All we could do was try to contain it so that the blaze wouldn’t spread to other buildings.”
Pointing to how the explosions appeared to go off at intervals in different parts of the depot, Ukrainian authorities blamed saboteurs.
There have been other major explosions and fires at Ukrainian arms depots in recent years, amid fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a few hundred kilometers southeast of the depot site.
The war has killed more than 10,300 people since it began after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and fomented separatism following the ouster of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after months of pro-European unrest in Kyiv.
Cease-fire deals signed in Minsk in September 2014 and February 2015 have failed to end the bloodshed despite near-constant dialogue among European, Russian, and U.S. officials over ways to resolve the four-year crisis.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In March 2017, a massive firestorm at a munitions depot near the eastern city of Kharkiv prompted the evacuation of about 20,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the site.
And in September 2017, more than 30,000 people were forced from their homes after artillery warehouses on a military installation exploded in the Vinnytsya region, southwest of Kyiv.
Authorities have frequently blamed the blasts on sabotage, and the government has allocated 100 million hryvnyas (.6 million) for the protection of the country’s ammunition-storage facilities.
But that does little for Reshetnuk as he surveys the damage to his home.
“The furnace is the only thing left here. Where will I keep myself warm now? What will I do in winter? How will I rebuild my house? My monthly pension is just 1,400 hryvnyas,” he says, spreading his hands to the sky to show how his house no longer has a roof.
The term UFOs, which stands for “unidentified flying objects,” is now used less frequently by officials, who have instead adopted the term “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP.
Another image from a video showing a UFO filmed near San Diego in 2004.
(Department of Defense)
Neither the term UFO nor UAP means the unknown object is deemed extraterrestrial, and many such sightings end up having logical, and earthly, explanations.
Gradisher also said the videos were never cleared for public release. “The Navy has not released the videos to the general public,” he said.
Susan Gough, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, previously told The Black Vault that the videos “were never officially released to the general public by the DOD and should still be withheld.”
Gradisher told Vice the Navy “considers the phenomena contained/depicted in those three videos as unidentified.”
He told The Black Vault: “The Navy has not publicly released characterizations or descriptions, nor released any hypothesis or conclusions, in regard to the objects contained in the referenced videos.”
The Department of Defense videos show pilots confused by what they are seeing. In one video, a pilot said: “What the f— is that thing?”
“I very much expected that when the US military addressed the videos, they would coincide with language we see on official documents that have now been released, and they would label them as ‘drones’ or ‘balloons,'” John Greenwald, the curator of The Black Vault, told Vice.
“However, they did not. They went on the record stating the ‘phenomena’ depicted in those videos, is ‘unidentified.’ That really made me surprised, intrigued, excited, and motivated to push harder for the truth.”
The Times spoke with more pilots, who spotted objects in 2014 and 2015, this year. One of the pilots told the outlet: “These things would be out there all day.”
These pilots, many of whom were part of a Navy flight squadron known as the “Red Rippers,” reported the sightings to the Pentagon and Congress, The Times reported.
The pilots said the objects could accelerate, stop, and turn in ways that went beyond known aerospace technology, The Times added.
They said they were convinced the objects were not part of a secret military project like a classified drone program.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet taking off from the USS Harry S. Truman in the North Atlantic in September 2018. Red Rippers crew said they saw mysterious objects while in flight.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann)
“Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds,” the Times report said.
Hypersonic speed is more than about 3,800 mph — five times the speed of sound.
The 2004 video and one of the 2015 videos were also shared by The To Stars Academy, a UFO research group cofounded by Tom deLonge from the rock group Blink-182, in December 2017. The group released a third Department of Defense video in 2018 that Gradisher told The Black Vault was filmed on the same day as the other 2015 video.
The group hints at non-earthly origins of the videos, claiming they “demonstrate flight characteristics of advanced technologies unlike anything we currently know, understand, or can duplicate with current technologies.”
Gradisher, the Navy representative, told Vice the Navy changed its policy in 2018 to make it easier for crew to report unexplained sightings as there were so many reports of “unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled training ranges and designated airspace.”
Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, are rewriting the requirements infantry soldiers must meet when they test for the Expert Infantryman Badge.
Each year, infantry soldiers who have not earned the distinctive badge, consisting of a silver musket mounted on a blue field, must go through EIB testing, a series of 30 infantry tasks, ranging from land navigation to completing a 12-mile road march in under three hours.
Soon, EIB testing will feature more up-to-date tasks to reflect the modern battlefield, according to a recent Army news release.
Infantry officials recently conducted a modernized EIB pilot with multiple infantry soldiers, Master Sgt. Charles Evans, from the office of the Chief of the Infantry, said in the release.
“Their feedback was really essential to rolling out this new standard, making sure it was validated,” Evans said. “Just working out all the kinks and making sure that all the tasks were applicable, realistic and up-to-date with the latest doctrine.”
Parachute infantryman Spc. Sean Tighe, assigned to B Company 1st Battalion (Airborne) 501st Infantry Regiment, performs push-ups as 1SG Landon Sahagun, B Company 1st Battalion (Airborne) 501st Infantry Regiment, counts his repetitions during the Expert Infantryman Badge testing.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)
Many of the changes in the manual are designed to standardize options for units in how to conduct the testing, but “there will be significant changes to some of the tests themselves,” according to the release.
“Indirect fire, move under fire, grenades, CPR and care under fire are all being reworked,” the release states.
The results of the pilot will soon be put into an updated training manual for EIB testing.
“The reason we did this event was to make sure it wasn’t just written from a single perspective, that it had feedback from all the different types of units across the Army,” Evans said.
On Dec. 23, 1944, 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson was killed in action when Nazi planes shot down his P-47 Thunderbolt. Carlson would be missing for almost 73 years until he was identified and buried with full honors at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania on Aug. 4, 2017.
When the “missing man” formation was flown, it was done by four F-35s.
The F-35s belonged to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, one of 23 assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, according to the wing’s official webpage. The 56th operates both F-35s and F-16s.
But long before it had the mission to train pilots on the Air Force’s newest multi-role fighter, the 56th Fighter Wing was a combat unit, as was its predecessor, the 56th Fighter Group.
A July 28 release by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency noted that Carlson’s remains had finally been identified. It noted that Carlson’s wingman had believed that the pilot got out, but German officials had claimed his remains had been recovered near the crash site.
The release stated that Carlson would be returned to his family for burial. So, how did the F-35s end up flying the missing man formation?
Back in World War II, the 56th Fighter Group was known as the “Wolfpack,” which included the 62nd Fighter Squadron. Among the pilots who flew with that unit was the legendary Robert S. Johnson, a 27-kill ace who later wrote the book, “Thunderbolt!”
According to an Air Force News Service report, it was because Carlson had been a member of the 62nd when he was killed in action. Squadron commander Lt. Col. Peter Lee had been browsing Facebook when he noticed the patch for the 62nd Fighter Squadron.
“I clicked on the link and that’s how I found out. It started with something as simple as a Facebook post…and next thing you know we’re flying four airplanes over and talking with the family,” he said.
The F-35s flew the missing man formation for Carlson, led by Capt. Kyle Babbitt, who said, “If it had been me on the other side, I would really appreciate this for my family. It’s definitely an honor to take on this responsibility.”
You can see a video about this mission by the 62nd Fighter Squadron below.
As part of its new Soldier Protection System, the U.S. Army plans to field eye protection that adjusts to daytime and night conditions so soldiers won’t have to constantly change eyewear on operations.
Senior Army equipment officials on Wednesday discussed the new body armor system with lawmakers at a hearing before the House Armed Services Tactical Air Land Forces Subcommittee on the ground force modernization budget request for fiscal 2017.
Army Lt. Gen. John Murray, Army deputy chief of staff, G-8, told lawmakers that soldiers have typically had to carry two pairs of protective eyewear over the last 15 years — one for day and one for night.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but that is a huge deal to not have to physically transition eye protection,” Murray said. “The actual lenses do it for you.”
The Soldier Protection System, or SPS, is a full ensemble that goes beyond torso protection and provides the soldier with improved protection for vital areas such as the head and face.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked about the recent decision to accelerate the program and the incorporation of sensors designed to monitor a soldier’s vital signs.
The Army’s 2017 budget request shows a significant increase in research and development of the effort, from about $5 million to $16 million, she said.
“The additional funding helps to get us there sooner,” said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology. “Although we were looking at these systems simultaneously, the way the funding allocated wasn’t until 2019 that we could get to the integrated sensor suite.”
The integrated sensors portion of the SPS is “a really important component because what that will allow you do is not only measure things like heart rate but it will also give you feedback on things like hydration,” he said.
Eye protection is another key part of the SPS, Williamson said.
“One of the more impressive things they are doing is building transitional eyewear that allows a soldier to move from a dark environment into the light and back and forth without the disorientation that occurs because of that change in environment,” he said, adding that the new eyewear also increases the blast fragmentation protection by about 10 percent.
The new Modular Scalable Vest portion of the SPS features a more streamlined design compared to the current Improved Outer Tactical Vest.
The most noticeable feature of the SPS is the new Ballistic Combat Shirt, or BCS, which has been updated with soft armor on the neck, shoulders, high chest and high back to protect against 9mm rounds and shrapnel. The lower part of the shirt is still a breathable, fire-resistant material.
It also features the Integrated Head Protection System, which gives the soldier the ability to attach extra armor to the top of the helmet to provide additional protection against snipers shooting down on soldiers riding in an open turret, as well as the armored facemask to protect against gunfire and shrapnel.
The SPS is also part of the Army’s effort to lighten the soldiers load, Williamson said.
“The goal for the entire system is 10 to 15 percent less weight than the soldier carries today,” he said.
Marine Brig. Gen. Joe Shrader, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command told lawmakers that the Marine Corps often works with the Army on individual protection equipment programs, such as the new “Enhanced Combat Helmet that we have developed with the Army and now are final stages if fielding the first 77,000 of those.”
Amid growing calls for an end to the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan, the President of the embattled country is looking for a political solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, Reuters reports the terror group will refuse to participate in any peace talks until after a full U.S. withdrawal from the country.
American officials call this refusal, “unacceptable.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
“Frankly, it’s Taliban leaders who aren’t residing in Afghanistan who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, a top State Department official in Afghanistan.
In June, 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani successfully negotiated a ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the most important religious holiday for Muslims worldwide. It’s a three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month during which the devout fast during the day. Ramadan is important to the worldwide Muslim community as one of the five pillars of Islam.
It was the Taliban’s first-ever agreement to any ceasefire since the 2001 start of the war in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Williams)
The ceasefire actually lasted longer than three days and was “98 percent successful.” Reports say Afghans across the country, both military and civilian, were “jubilant.” Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters alike hugged each other and took selfies together in scenes reminiscent of the “Christmas Truce” of World War I, during which German and British troops spontaneously left the trenches to celebrate Christmas together in peace.
But, in both cases, the party had to end. In 1914, British and Germans were shooting at each other again the next day. In Afghanistan, the truce lasted 18 days, but fighting soon resumed.
Still, the ceasefire gave many civilians in the country the hope that a negotiated peace may soon be at hand. That includes President Ghani, who says the jubilation and happiness surrounding the ceasefire is proof that the country is ready for peace.
“I am ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban are ready,” he said at a press conference.
The Taliban ordered its fighters back to the trenches. The group says a negotiated peace is playing into the hands of the U.S. In response, President Ghani ordered his troops back to the fighting as well.
As a Military Working Dog handler in the US Marine Corps, I got to work with some of the best trained dogs in the world.
These dogs can sniff out bombs that have been buried underground, sniff out drugs that are hidden in ceiling tiles, take down a man three times their size, and track a person long after they’re gone to find criminal suspects or lost kids.
As a handler paired up with an explosive detection dog, my job was to train him, maintain his skills, keep him healthy, make sure he got exercise, and make sure he was healthy. After graduating from dog handling school, I was paired with my first dog, Kuko.
As a new handler with an experienced dog, I had to get up to his level before we could be an effective team. Once I got there, I could start teaching him new things to take our team to the next level.
While you may not be training your dog to find bombs buried in mud or drugs hidden in a car bumper, there are some keys to training dogs that will apply no matter what skills you are trying to teach.
Airman 1st Class John Fountain, a military working dog handler, with MWD Deny on the Obedience Obstacle course at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 24, 2019.
(Air Force photo by Airman Jesse Jenny)
1. You have to build a relationship.
The first thing you do upon meeting your new MWD is begin to build rapport. If you take home a brand-new puppy, you begin training by establishing a relationship with the dog. With so many dogs in a unit’s kennel, handlers take turns dropping food pans for the dogs twice a day.
However, when a handler partners with a new dog, it’s a good idea to let that handler drop their dog’s food for a few days to establish a good bond. The dog begins to associate the handler with good things.
This was particularly important with our, shall we say, “crankier” dogs. While our dogs weren’t trained to be mean, they aren’t the friendliest dogs either. They have a serious job to do, and they are serious dogs.
I’ve seen handlers get bit by their own dogs more than a few times. Two of the best dog teams in my first unit had scars from their dogs. Training too hard, too fast with a dog that doesn’t trust you yet can lead to frustration on both sides and usually doesn’t lead to good results.
US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eliot Fiaschi takes a moment to brush his partner Meky’s teeth during a break while on duty at the Djibouti Pier, April 23, 2009.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Dawn Price)
2. Groom your dog every day.
Grooming your dog helps build the relationship, keeps the dog clean and healthy, and lets you check them over from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail for any problems. With hair covering most of them, dogs can have serious issues developing that you can’t see until you brush them.
If your dog is running around in wooded areas, check in their ears, their paws, and in between their paw pads for ticks. Even with preventative medication, ticks can bite dogs and infect them with multiple diseases that can be devastating or deadly. Even a small cut on the paw can turn into something bigger if not treated properly, and dogs that don’t feel good aren’t good students.
One of our dogs contracted a tick-borne disease that nearly killed him. While we never found the tick, the dog tested positive for Babesia. He only survived because his handler had noted that he seemed more and more lethargic over the course of about three days.
Because she was watching him closely, she noticed when his gums and tongue went pale, indicating a serious problem. He was rushed to the vet, where aggressive treatment saved his life. His recovery was long and difficult and led to his retirement, but the vets and vet techs care about the dogs and will save them if possible.
Airman 1st Class John Fountain, a military working dog handler, with MWD Deny on the Obedience Obstacle course at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 24, 2019.
(Air Force photo by Airman Jesse Jenny)
3. Consistency is key.
During this rapport-building time, start laying the foundations for the training that you want to do with your dog.
Don’t let them get away with things that you won’t accept later. Reward good behavior with praise, attention, play, or treats. Once training begins, consistency is going to be key to getting good results.
If you are training the dog to sit, set the dog up to succeed by training in the same area every time. Keep your voice the same. Don’t change the way you say the command. Don’t give the command unless you are prepared to reward.
A military working dog team completes a detection training scenario in Southwest Asia, Jan. 10, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)
4. Training takes time.
You can’t rush dog training. Some dogs pick things up faster than others. MWDs are trained for four to seven months in basic skills before they are officially called an MWD. If your dog isn’t grasping basic tasks, you can’t move on to the more advanced. Basic obedience, (the sit, down, and stay) is the foundation of all further training.
Take your time to master the basics, and refresh them from time to time. MWDs are professionals with years of experience, and they get obedience refresher training almost every day. It’s much easier to maintain proficiency than it is to fix a problem that you have let slide for too long.
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Stone, a military working dog handler, braces for impact as military working dog, Cola, attempts to detain him during a K-9 demonstration exercise, Aug. 17, 2017.
(US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider)
5. Dogs have bad days too.
Say you’ve been training your dog for weeks. He’s performing well, and then one day he just refuses to work for you. He won’t sit. He seems bored, antsy, tired, or just lazy.
Don’t get mad, and don’t continue to correct the dog if it isn’t working. Dogs have their bad days too. Sometimes they just don’t want to work. If you try to force it, you will become frustrated and angry, which hardly ever leads to good results. Recognize that there might be a medical issue at play. Sick dogs aren’t usually enthusiastic students.
During an evaluation at my last base, a dog wouldn’t stay in the sit. The handler couldn’t get the dog to stay after multiple corrections. The evaluator took a close look and saw that the dog was positioned on an ant hill and had fire ants biting his legs. Continuing to correct the dog in that situation would be ineffective and would harm the good rapport between dog and handler.
Recognize that your dog is a living, breathing creature that has feelings and emotions.
US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Victor Longoria shares a playful moment with his partner, Timmy, after a training session, April 16, 2009.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Dawn Price)
6. Dogs need to have fun.
Recognizing that dogs are living, breathing creatures, they need to have fun. If the dog only ever sees you for training, you are missing a big part of the relationship.
Take your dog out and let him run, play with toys, lay in the sun, take a break, and just be a dog. It will make for a happy dog that wants to please you by doing the right thing when training. In a strong dog team, the dog’s desire to please the handler provides as much motivation as the toy or the treat.
My first dog was not especially affectionate, and I wouldn’t say that he ever loved me in the way that a pet loves its owner. He had handlers before me, and he would have more after me, but we still had a strong bond, which made us an effective team.
I took him out, let him play, tossed a ball for him, let him lay in the sun, and took him for long walks with no commands. He knew when it was time to work and when it was time to play, and he trusted that if he did what I asked and made me happy, good things would come to him.
Staff Sgt. Cody Nickell, a military working dog handler, works with Topa to get him accustomed to being in a Huey helicopter, at Yokota Air Base, Japan, July 26, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
7. Not every dog is going to be able to learn every task.
Between buying carefully selected dogs from Europe and breeding their own at Lackland Air Force Base, the military goes through a lot of dogs. Not every dog makes it as an MWD. They fail out for a variety of reasons, from health issues to behavioral issues. Some dogs just aren’t cut out for the type of work that MWDs do.
We had a dog that didn’t want to bite people. She was sent after a decoy wearing the bite sleeve, and she faked a leg injury instead of chasing him down. The vet determined that nothing was wrong with her, she just didn’t want to bite.
If your dog just isn’t getting it, it might be the dog.
While you probably (hopefully) aren’t training your dog to bite people, you might find that your dog won’t sit, won’t drop the ball, or won’t stay for longer than a second. Keep in mind that some breeds of dogs are known for their willingness to learn, and others are not.
Don’t adopt a working dog breed and keep it inside all day without exercise. That’s how houses get destroyed. Do your research and adopt a dog that is going to fit in with your lifestyle and not a dog that you saw in a movie and you think looks cool.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made mental health care treatment available to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges through two new programs.
One service, initiated in 2017, is specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.
The department’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers are prepared to offer emergency stabilization care for former service members who arrive at the facility with a mental health need.
Former service members with an OTH administrative discharge may receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care.
During this time, VHA and the Veterans Benefits Administration will work together to determine if the mental health condition is a result of a service-related injury, making the service member eligible for ongoing coverage for that condition.
A second initiative focuses on the implementation of Public Law 115-141. With this implementation, VA notified former service members of the mental and behavioral health care they may now be eligible for and sent out over 475,000 letters to inform former service members about this care.
The letters (sample follows) explained what they may be eligible for, how long they may be able to receive care and how they can get started.
You are receiving this notification because you may be eligible for services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Congress recently passed legislation that allows VA to provide ongoing mental and behavioral health care to certain former service members with Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges, including those who
Were on active duty for more than 100 days and served in a combat role, or
Experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault while serving.
The rate of death by suicide among veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than veterans who use VA care; according to agency mental health officials. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. VA will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.
In 2018, 1,818 individuals with an OTH discharge received mental health treatment, three times more than the 648 treated in 2017.
There was a total of 2,580 former service members with an OTH discharge that received care in 2018 in VHA. Of these, 1,818 received treatment in Mental Health Services. Of the 2,580 service members with OTH discharge, 1,076 had a mental health diagnosis.
Additionally, VA may be able to treat a mental illness presumed to be related to military service. When VA is unable to provide care, VA will work with partner agencies and will assist in making referrals for additional care as needed.
You can call or visit a VA medical center or Vet Center and let them know that you are a former service member with an OTH discharge who is interested in receiving mental health care.
Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated demands that Iranian forces and their allies leave Syria are not “realistic,” Russia’s ambassador to Israel has said.
“The Iranians are playing a very, very important role in our common efforts to eliminate the terrorists in Syria,” Anatoly Viktorov said in English on Israel’s Channel 10 broadcaster on July 30, 2018.
“That’s why, for this period of time, we see as nonrealistic demands to expel any foreign troops from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said.
Viktorov said the presence of Iran’s military advisers and allied fighters in Syria is “fully legitimate, according to UN principles,” and Russia “cannot force them” to leave the country.
Syria, with help from Russia, Iran, and Tehran’s ally, the Lebanese militia Hizballah, has swiftly regained control over large swathes of territory after seven years of a civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people.
On July 30, 2018, the Syrian Army was reported to be consolidating control of its border with Israel after having ousted a last remnant of the Islamic State extremist group in the area.
Russia, which has friendly relations with both Iran and Israel, recently has sought to play a mediating role between the two sworn enemies.
Both Tel Aviv and Washington have demanded that Iranian fighters leave Syria, and Israel has repeatedly carried out deadly air strikes against Iranian facilities and positions in Syria.
Viktorov told Channel 10 that Russia is “not OK” with such use of “force” by the Israeli government, which has reportedly killed dozens of Iran-allied fighters.
But the diplomat said Russia “cannot persuade Israel how to proceed” in Syria. “It is not up to Russia to give it freedom to do anything or to prohibit anything,” he said.
The Israeli air raids have gone largely unimpeded by Russian defense systems deployed in Syria, and Israel set up a hotline with Russia in 2015 to ensure the two countries avoid accidentally clashing in the air over Syria.
While Viktorov’s comments are the first to publicly state that Russia will not try to kick Iran out of Syria, in July 2018 Israeli officials reported that Russia offered to keep Iranian forces 100 kilometers from Syria’s border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights during a Jerusalem meeting between Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Israel has been on high alert since June 19, 2018, when Syrian government forces launched an offensive to retake southern Daraa and Quneitra provinces, next to the occupied Golan Heights.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, in a move never recognized internationally.
North Korea’s latest missile test, carried out this past weekend, ended about sixty miles off the Russian coast. Russia is not happy about the test, as one might imagine. In fact, they may get angry. Of course, we should note that Putin has options aside from sending Kim Jong-un a letter telling him how angry Moscow is.
Russia has long pushed the development of surface-to-air missiles, and the Soviets put that system on the map in 1960 by downing the Lockheed U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers. In one sense, Russia needs to have good air defenses since their fighters tend to come out second-best when tangling with American or Western designs.
So, what options does Russia have to shoot down a North Korean missile? Quite a few – and it can be hard to tell them apart.
1. SA-10 Grumble
This is probably the oldest of Russia’s area-defense systems capable of downing a ballistic missile. Like the Patriot, it was initially intended to provide air defense for important targets by shooting down the strike aircraft. It eventually began to cover the tactical ballistic missile threat as well – much as the Patriot made that evolution.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the baseline SA-10, or S-300PMU, now exported to a number of countries (including Iran), had a maximum range of 124 miles. A navalized version of this missile, the SA-N-6, is used on the Kirov and Slava-class cruisers.
2. SA-12 Gladiator
The Russians consider the SA-12 to be a member of the S-300 family. While the S-300 was initially designed to handle planes, the SA-12 was targeted more towards the MGM-52 Lance. Designation-Systems.net notes that the Lance’s W70 warhead could deliver up to a 100-kiloton yield. That could ruin your whole day.
But the development of a conventional cluster munition warhead for the Lance really bothered the Russians, who expected to see a many as 400 Lances launched in the early stages of a war in Europe. GlobalSecurity.org credits the SA-12 with a range of about 62 miles – not as long a reach as the SA-10 but more than enough to take out an incoming missile before it can do harm.
3. SA-20 Gargoyle
This is an improved version of the SA-10, according to GlobalSecurity.org. It has the same maximum range as the SA-10 version (about 124 miles), but there is a capability to engage faster targets than the baseline SA-10, which usually translates into neutralizing ballistic missiles launched from further away.
The system, also uses several types of missiles — including in the 9M96 family (9M96E1 and 9M96E2) that are smaller than baseline SA-10 missiles. Like the SA-10, there is a naval version, called the SA-N-20, which is on the Pyotr Velikiy and China’s Type 51C destroyers.
4. SA-21 Growler
This is also known as the S-400. The system made headlines when it deployed to Syria after Turkey shot down a Su-24 Fencer jet. The system is often compared to the American Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, but unlike THAAD, it is also capable of hitting aircraft and cruise missiles. GlobalSecurity.org credits the SA-21 with a range of about 250 miles.
5. SA-23 Giant
What the SA-20 is to the SA-10, the SA-23 is to the SA-12. This is a substantially improved version of the SA-12, and is intended to deal with longer-range ballistic missiles than the MGM-52 that the SA-12 was intended to take out. The SA-23, also known as the Antey 2500, has a range of 124 miles according to GlobalSecurity.org.
Russia’s born-of-necessity work on surface-to-air missiles has lead to some very capable options in air defense. The real scary part is that Russia has been willing to export those systems – and that could mean they will face American pilots sooner rather than later.
The US Air Force announced that the last squadrons of the legendary B-52 Stratofortress have concluded their operations against ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have returned home to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“Following two years of B-52 squadrons employing nearly 12,000 weapons on Islamic State and Taliban targets across U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, the venerable BUFF flew its last mission April 7  before turning over the bomber duty reins to the newly arrived B-1B Lancer,” an Air Force spokesman said in a statement.
The bomber, nicknamed the BUFF for “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” has been in service with the Air Force for 63 years, the last two of which it served as US Central Command’s go-to bomber.
Almost 12,000 weapons were dropped over the course of 1,850 missions on ISIS and Taliban targets. On average, B-52 aircrews recorded 400-450 hours in a single six to seven-month deployment, which is nearly three times the traditional 300 hours usually flown by B-52 crews.
A number of new records were also made. The 23rd Bomb Squadron celebrated its 100th birthday in June 2017, with 400 consecutive missions without any maintenance delays, breaking the previous record that was set during the Vietnam War’s Operation Linebacker II in 1972.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)
In September of that same year, the B-52 surpassed the B-1 Lancer’s record of 761 consecutive missions without a maintenance cancellation by 73 missions, increasing the record to 834.
A B-52 dropped 24 precision guided munitions during a 96-hour air campaign against Taliban training and narcotics facilities in Feburary 2018, breaking the previous record (which was also set by a B-52) for the most smart bombs dropped on the Taliban.
American commanders have huge respect and admiration for the B-52 and its aircrews. “The BUFF did a fantastic job crushing ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria,” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command, said.
“Some would say it’s a cold war relic,” Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, the commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said. “But it’s such a versatile airframe that it keeps being reinvented and it keeps showing its usefulness and its relevance in every war that America finds itself in.”
US Central Command’s future bombing operations in its area of responsibility will be conducted by B-1 bombers.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) pulls alongside the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197) during a replenishment-at-sea in June. Following an extended visit to Guam in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Theodore Roosevelt is underway conducting carrier qualifications during a deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier. PHILIPPINE SEA (June 1, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) pulls alongside the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197) during a replenishment-at-sea June 1, 2020. Following an extended visit to Guam in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Theodore Roosevelt is underway conducting carrier qualifications during a deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier)
When the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) returned to sea in late-May following a two-month long battle against the novel coronavirus, the aircraft carrier was ground zero for a new normal for Navy ships at sea.
In the early months of the global pandemic, the Roosevelt had become itself a COVID-19 “hotspot.” The virus ultimately cost one Roosevelt crewmember his life and infected 1,150 sailors. As the ship resumed its mission with a scaled-back crew, facemasks, frequent handwashing, enhanced cleaning measures, reduced mess deck seating, one-way corridors and other protocols to mitigate COVID-19 had become the norm within the fleet.
“We can protect our force, we can deploy our Navy, and we will do both,” Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, told reporters on an April 15 call. “Face-coverings, hand-washing, ship-disinfecting are now part of our daily routine throughout the Navy.”
Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argues the pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the Navy.
“The Navy trains for all sorts of contingencies but if operating during a global pandemic was one, it was so far down the list as to be irrelevant,” Rubin said. “Politicians thought we were past this age and flag officers and civilian planners were no different.”
Navy Seaman Kyle Pavek stands lookout watch aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197). Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julian Davis.
Less than a month after the first sailor aboard the Roosevelt tested positive for the coronavirus, the Navy issued updated guidance aimed at maintaining ongoing fleet operations and defeating “this unseen enemy.” The Navy’s “Pre-Deployment Guidance” and a “COVID-19 Recovery Framework” outline shipboard changes that will be experienced by sailors:
Mandatory medical screenings for existing medical conditions that place personnel at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
Daily personal screening questionnaires and temperature checks.
Testing and isolation of anyone with flu-like symptoms.
14-to-21-day restriction of movement (ROM) period for potentially asymptomatic people to present symptoms.
14-day ROM period before external crew, ship riders (contractors, technical representatives) and direct support personnel can embark during an underway.
Enforcement of personal hygiene practices and, whenever possible, physical distancing.
Ongoing screening for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
Maximum personal protective equipment (PPE) use.
Separate and segregate cleaning teams from critical watchstanders.
Minimize contact with delivery personnel.
Additional guidance outlines specific steps to be taken to clean a ship or facility following a COVID-19 outbreak, using three categories of requirements depending on the degree to which the space is operationally significant and the level of access required.
“These measures allow fleet leadership the ability to monitor the health of the force in a controlled and secure environment so they are ready to accomplish assigned missions and support to the goal of preventing the spread of the COVID virus to U.S. forces, allies, partners and the community. These frameworks cover testing for personnel as well,” Cmdr. Patrick L. Evans, Public Affairs Officer for Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in an email response. He noted commanders have the authority to issue more specific guidance to units within their areas of responsibility.
“In addition, our ships are enforcing social distancing, minimizing group gatherings, wearing PPE and cleaning extensively,” he added. “Quarterdeck watchstanders are screening anyone who walks on board and referring sailors with symptoms to medical evaluation.”
Navy Quartermaster 3rd Class Patrick Souvannaleut, left, and Quartermaster 3rd Class Elizabeth Weil, right, stand spotter lookout during a replenishment-at-sea as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt approaches the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197). Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Wheeler.
Navy officials have acknowledged “day-to-day actions must assume COVID is present” because asymptomatic personnel are likely to be aboard all ships. That point was driven home in mid-May when 14 Roosevelt sailors who previously contracted the virus tested positive a second time after returning to the ship following a mandatory quarantine period and two negative COVID-19 tests.
Retired Navy Capt. Albert Shimkus, a registered nurse and certified nurse anesthetist who previously commanded the hospital ship USNS Comfort, maintains sailors must take individual responsibility for following COVID-19 prevention protocols and “recognizing you could potentially be a carrier that could affect and infect your shipmates.”
As the Navy adjusts to the operational realities the pandemic presents, Shimkus, whose views are his own and do not represent the U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Navy or Department of Defense, stresses the Navy’s core values must ring true.
“Given the nature of what this crisis is ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’ speak volumes about how we will treat ourselves and each other and about doing the ethically and morally correct thing,” said Shimkus, Associate Professor, National Security Affairs, Naval War College. “That’s all related to a command environment that is healthy and a command environment that is willing to do what’s right for the members of their command.”
Shimkus is confident Navy leaders at sea and ashore will rise to the challenge.
“Good leadership in the context of this crisis is being transparent to their crew and members of their organizations,” he explained. “Telling the truth and being able to be understood by your crew, opening up questions and answering them to the best of your ability is part of good leadership and commitment to doing the right thing.”
Veteran U.S. Marine Corps combat cameraman Scotty Bob loves to jump out of perfectly safe aircraft. He got his first taste of what would become his career at age 19 when his attachment to Marine Force Recon sent him to U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“That’s kind of where I bit the bug,” Bob told Coffee or Die. He now lives in Southern California as a professional base jumper working with Squirrel Wingsuits. He also works with Kavu, maker of the well-known Rope Bag.
Back in the Marines, Bob didn’t get to jump very often. He deployed to Iraq twice, in 2007 and 2009, and spent most of his time with line infantry units. “Once we get deployed, we’re kind of property of the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force),” he said. “I think I was the only combat cameraman with jump wings.”
For anyone unfamiliar with the role of a combat cameraman, Scotty said that “if you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ it’s the exact same job. The guy who wrote the manuscript of that movie for Stanley Kubrick, he was my MOS (military occupational specialty).”
After his five-year stint in the Marines, Bob left in 2010 and soon realized that college was “not really my thing.” So he began his skydiving and base-jumping career in Virginia.
(Photo courtesy of Scotty Bob/Facebook.)
As with many career paths, Bob said, one starts in the skydiving industry with “entry-level jobs, and you tend to work your way up the ranks. And for me it started as a parachute packer.” He worked long hours and did not get to jump very often, but his foot was in the door.
After spending a while working in Virginia, where he grew up, Bob decided to head west. He said that once “you spend a couple years skydiving on the East Coast, you realize you need to move West. In California, we can jump year round.”
By 2013, he had earned tandem instructor certification, and Bob was well on his way to living his dream.
He has jumped everywhere from Virginia to Alaska, where he jumped out of de Havilland Beavers. He described the Alaskan experience as “just flying down mountains.” He even jumped Pioneer Peak, one of the most iconic mountains of the western Chugach range, not far from Anchorage.
(Photo courtesy of Scotty Bob/Facebook.)
In his day-to-day life, Bob tests new wingsuits for Squirrel Wingsuits and coaches people in wingsuiting.
“I do that basically seven days a week,” he said, adding that “the base-jumping community especially has a massive veteran community, it’s pretty scary. When we have events, at least in the States, you can throw a rock and hit three Marines.”
As for the future, Bob says that he is happy where he is. “I’ve reached the holy grail of jobs,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”