Unconventional warfare is necessarily a messy business. It entails finding the enemies of our enemies and convincing them to fight our mutual foes, even if we’re not necessarily friends. It reduces America’s risk in blood, but it also means our national security rests on the shoulders of foreign fighters. In the confusing situations this creates, one top officer in the Afghanistan invasion had three simple questions to cut through the chaos.
U.S. special operators pose with Hamid Karzai during the invasion of Afghanistan. Karzai would go on to be president of Afghanistan.
During the invasion, then-Lt. Col. Mark Rosengard was in command of Task Force Dagger, and he had to greatly expand the unconventional warfare program in the country. So he couldn’t spend days or weeks of time and reams of paper figuring out whether he would trust one potential guerrilla leader or another.
So, according to reporter Sean Naylor in his book Not a Good Day to Die, Rosengard just asked three questions.
First, “Do we have a common goal today, recognizing tomorrow may be different?” Basically, do the militiamen or guerillas want the same outcome as the American forces? Including, do they want to see the same people die?
Next, “Do you have a secure backyard?” Simply, do the local forces have somewhere safe-ish to train? If the forces have to constantly quit training in order to fight off attacks, then they won’t be able to actually train. But if there’s any sort of safe compound in which to get to work, then it’s time to ask the third question.
“Are you willing to kill people?”
Yeah, that’s not a very complicated one.
Taken together, these three questions would let Rosengard know whether he could get to work with a new commander. Of course, there were additional concerns that he had to keep track of.
Afghan forces in a discussion with a senior weapons sergeant of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.
For instance, on the first question, you would need to keep track of whether the militias might really turn on you tomorrow. It’s a bad idea to spend too much time training foreign fighters who only have a few days or weeks of loyalty to America left.
But, overall, these three questions match up with American choices in other wars.
Gen. John “BlackJack” Pershing made alliances with Moro tribesmen in the Philippines and hired them as law enforcement officers even though he knew their long-term goals would be different. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt allied America with Russia to destroy Germany, adding the Soviet Union to the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 despite it being clear that the U.S. and Soviet Union would eventually be at loggerheads.
Rosengard’s gambles in Afghanistan largely worked out for the invasion, and U.S. special operators and unconventional forces took large sections of the country in the Winter of 2001, a period in which they had planned to take just a small foothold in the north. The operators and their guerrilla allies also were able to bring Hamid Karzai back to the country to take power, helping cement American control of the country.
But, of course, the issues with Afghan forces in the invasion were quickly felt. Pashtun tribesmen were extremely helpful in taking the country from the Taliban, but their half-hearted attacks at Tora Bora are thought to have been a major contributor to Osama Bin Laden’s escape from that mountain stronghold into Pakistan where he would successfully hide until his death in 2011.
There’s no bigger week in sports than the one in which your team plays its most-hated, bitter rival. Every city has one — that one team that fans and players just love to hate. Sometimes, this match-up is a critical game, one that decides the fate of the entire season. But even for teams that perennially enjoy a losing record, there’s no such thing as too much preparation for those two weeks a year when they’ve got the chance to run their sworn enemy into the ground.
These games are often the most important, no matter what’s at stake for the season.
There are bitter NFL rivalries that transcend fanbases. Onlookers do not have a dog in the fight, but we’re watching because we know it’s going to be a good game. These are the grudge matches we tune in to watch year after year, because we know true colors will be shown.
8. Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
This is the longest-running rivalry in the NFL, and it’s one you’ll likely catch on Thanksgiving every other year or so. The Lions and Packers have been division rivals since 1933, which means they’ve been butting heads for over 85 years. Games between these two teams are known for wild endings, most notably the Miracle in Motown. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers sustained a facemask penalty at the end of the game, prompting a single untimed play. Rodgers threw a 61-yard Hail Mary pass for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 27-23 win.
7. Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
This one’s nearly as old as the Packers-Lions rivalry, but it’s known for more than just unbelievable endings. Play between the Eagles and Redskins has been known to get particularly brutal. This was on full display during a 1990 Monday Night Football game, since dubbed “The Body Bag Game” after nine Redskins players were taken out of the game with injuries. The ‘Skins got the last laugh that season, though. They came back to the same arena and beat the Eagles in the wildcard round of the playoffs, eventually making it all the way to Super Bowl XXV. They lost, but those Redskins came back the next season to win it all in Super Bowl XXVI.
These days, the two teams are in the NFC East and get to battle it out twice a year, The competition between Philadelphia and DC even bleeds in to the NHL, where there’s a bitter rivalry between the Flyers and the Capitals.
The tip that led to a Super Bowl win and cost Jim Harbaugh his job.
6. Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
Anyone who thinks the NFL has an east coast bias has never watched the Seahawks and 49ers go at it. If you didn’t get the picture from Seattle fans who burned Richard Sherman’s jersey after he moved to San Fran, know the hatred burns just as bright. These teams have only been divisional rivals since 2002, but that doesn’t mean the hatred is young. The rivalry only got more intense when west coast college coaches, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh and USC’s Pete Carroll, were elevated to command the two teams.
Seattle beat San Francisco in the 2013 NFC Championship, ending the 49ers streak in the game, and went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Seattle has won every meeting since January, 2014.
5. New England Patriots vs. Anyone
Is there any one player more loved and hated at the same time than Tom Brady? Is there any player who’s more reliable than Rob Gronkowski? Any coach more frustratingly brilliant than Bill Belichick? Do all these facts just make most of America and the cities of New York, Buffalo, and Miami hate the Patriots more and more?
Love them or hate them, the Patriots are always a contender for the Playoffs, the Super Bowl, and will at least finish with a winning season. For teams outside of their division, this means they’re going to have to play the Pats at some point — and they need to bring their A-Game to Foxborough. In the running for greatest franchises of all time, the Steelers, Cowboys, and 49ers all feel the pressure. Even the 1972 Dolphins get a sense of relief when the Patriots lose.
4. Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs
This one is particularly bitter, featuring long stretches of dominating victories for either team. The 70s and 80s were Raiders decades while the Chiefs have had much more success over Oakland ever since. Even the fans in the stands get carried away during this game, as heated fans routinely get into fistfights and brawls. One Raiders fan even sued the Chiefs organization for allowing him to receive a beatdown while security did nothing.
This meeting of these teams has kept one of ’em out of the playoffs on more than one occasion, snapped winning streaks, snapped terrible losing streaks, and kept Kansas City out of the postseason entirely between 1971 and 1986.
NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
3. Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
America’s team had to make the list at some point. The Cowboys and Giants are two of the most storied franchises in the NFL and both have large fanbases. The NFC East rivalry isn’t as old as the Packers-Lions rivalry and isn’t as violent as the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry, you can see a lot of legendary NFL names in action by watching old Cowboys-Giants games.
It’s a pretty even rivalry, with Dallas ahead at 65-46-2, but what this game is usually good for is a watching a close finish and tough on-field play. Where else could you watch Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith beat the Big Blue while breaking rushing records with a separated shoulder? Or watch the underdog Eli Manning-led Giants knock the Cowboys out of the playoffs after losing to Dallas twice in the regular season, only to go on and win Super Bowl XLII? Or how about just watching the two teams straight-up fistfight?
2. Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
Sports hatred burns brightly between Green Bay and Chicago. It also features some of football history’s greatest names while showcasing some of its greatest games. This series is always good for showing off real, hard-hitting football and the 200-game series is nearly tied at 97-94-6 in favor of Green Bay. The Bears-Packers rivalry is also famous for featuring the first players ever ejected from an NFL game.
It was the Bears who handed Brett Favre the first shutout in his career and broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. It was the Packers who put horse manure in the 1985 Bears locker room.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the AFC North
If you’re looking for an intense football matchup, look no further than when the Steelers play one of their AFC North division rivals. It doesn’t matter what an opponent’s record is, the Steelers are a force to be reckoned with. But the football gets brutal when playing against Cleveland, Baltimore, and especially Cincinnati. The Steelers are ahead in total wins against each.
The Browns bring their best football to Pittsburgh. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger can pretty much be described as a tank, especially as far as quarterbacks go, and it takes either a motorcycle accident or a meeting with the Browns defense to keep him from starting a game. Despite the Browns’ struggles for the last few years, Pittsburgh is still at a disadvantage in Cleveland, and the Browns have more home wins vs. the Steelers.
Until recently, the Ravens-Steelers game was a particularly intense matchup, with each team’s hard-hitting defense smothering the normally high-flying offenses of the other, and each able to keep the other at home during the post-season.
When the Steelers play the Bengals, things get violent and dramatic. Long-held frustrations with the other rear their ugly heads. No matter where the game is held, you can pretty much expect overzealous play, a flurry of yellow flags, helmet-to-helmet hits, and sometimes even bench-clearing fights. Even the coaches are guilty of putting hands on each other.
When asked about why there’s so much violence between the Bengals and Steelers, QB Ben Roethlisberger’s answer was “that’s AFC North Football.”
As President Donald Trump touted a new era of diplomacy with the North Korean regime, a classified intelligence assessment appeared to tell a different story, according to several US intelligence officials.
The assessment revealed that, in recent months, North Korea had upped its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at several secret sites, according to over a dozen intelligence officials cited in an NBC News report published June 29, 2018. The officials said they believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be trying to conceal the secret facilities from the US.
“Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles,” one senior US intelligence official said to NBC News. “We are watching closely.”
According to five US officials cited by NBC News, the North Korean regime was increasing production of enriched uranium, even as relations with the US improved following the 2018 Winter Olympics. And since the leaders of both countries held a summit in Singapore in mid-June, 2018, the Trump administration has already delivered some concessions to the North.
Trump halted Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a major joint military drill with South Korea that was scheduled for August 2018. The military exercises have been a point of contention for North Korea, which sees them as a direct threat. The US and South Korea treat the drills as defensive measures.
During the US-North Korea summit, the first such meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, the two men pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It was a vast departure from 2017 when both Trump and Kim were openly threatening nuclear war. But the broad and nondescript document fell short of a specific plan or goal, and was criticized by foreign-policy experts.
And though North Korea took several steps to indicate it was in the process of dismantling its weapons program, such as blowing up tunnels leading to a nuclear-test site, critics who monitored the development say it may have all been for show.
“There’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” a US official familiar with the intelligence report told NBC. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US.”
“There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time,” another intelligence official added.
The intelligence report may also confirm the theory held by many arms experts: that North Korea possesses a second, undisclosed nuclear enrichment facility. In 2008, North Korea signaled it would curb its nuclear program by televising the destruction of a water-cooling tower at a plutonium extraction facility, only to announce that it would “readjust and restart” in 2013.
The report also calls into question Trump’s claim that North Korea no longer poses as a nuclear threat to the US: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump tweeted in June, 2018, after returning from his meeting with Kim. “Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
Early in the morning, before the sun even had a chance to break the Oklahoma horizon and spread its rays, the soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section here are already at work mucking stalls, grooming horses, and training for their next event.
The Half Section is a special ceremonial unit responsible for carrying on the traditions of horse-drawn artillery from the era of World War I and was established at Fort Sill in 1963.
Throughout the year, the unit attends numerous ceremonies, parades, rodeos, and other events in historically accurate attire, preserving the proud history of the field artillery.
“The soldiers I receive at the Half Section do more than just shovel manure,” said Gerald Stuck, chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section. “They learn in depth about the role field artillery has played in our history. They pay tribute to the soldiers who came before them by wearing nearly the same uniforms they wore. They study up on the wars and conflicts that shaped us as an Army, so when presented questions by onlookers they can answer with confidence.”
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, saddles up and rides Valcourt. Soldiers must first pass a 30-day trial period, which includes a bareback riding test.
(Photo by Dustin D. Biven)
In addition to performing at events, soldiers assigned to the Half Section are also entrusted with looking after and caring for several horses, each with their own unique personality.
“When I say the horses have their own personality, I mean it,” laughed Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, who’s assigned to the 15th Transportation Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion. “We have our playful horses, our uptight ones, and even an alpha. It’s up to us to learn and adapt our behavior to each horse specifically to build that connection needed and earn their trust.”
A Soldier assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section buffs up a Half Section belt buckle getting it ceremonially shiny.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
O’Steen went on to say that although the horses are not assigned to specific Soldiers, they always seem to pair with a soldier with a similar personality.
The Half Section is a yearlong additional tasking that places soldiers on orders to the section and provides soldiers from all over Fort Sill an opportunity to develop not just as soldiers, but as leaders.
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Fort Sill Artillery Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, harnesses up his horse, Valcourt, in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
“I’ve learned a lot here at the Half Section,” said Spc. Randy Rogers, a soldier assigned to 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery. “Not only have I had a chance to build upon my leadership abilities by being placed in charge of training soldiers and rehearsing for events, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn trades like leather working and how to take care of the horses by (Mr. Stuck).”
Soldiers selected for the Artillery Half Section serve a one-year tour at Fort Sill, Okla., providing them professional development and enhanced leadership skills, along with the opportunity to serve beside some magnificent horses.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
Once soldiers have completed their time at the Half Section, they bring back to their units a years’ worth of unique experiences that could greatly improve upon their professional development and leadership potential as well as the soldiers they may mentor and train.
Soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section spend time polishing and preparing the French 75mm field gun in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
So the next time you find yourself on Fort Sill, be sure to take the time to visit the soldiers and horses of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section and learn more about the history of the artillery within the Army and how, with help from our four-legged friends, we became the world’s most lethal fighting force.
On Sept. 20, 2011, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. The policy served as a sort of compromise between people who wanted to continue to ban gay men and women from serving in the military, which had been the case prior to 1993, and those who felt that Americans should be eligible to serve regardless of sexual orientation.
In other words, until Sept. 20, 2011, service members were punished and even discharged with prejudice for being gay or bisexual. Now, it’s time to restore their honor and give them the benefits they deserve. Here’s how:
Honorable — For service members who meet or exceed the required standards of service. An honorable discharge comes with four major benefit programs, including disability compensation and medical care as well as pension programs and education.
General — For service members whose performance is satisfactory but is marked by a considerable departure in duty performance and conduct. A general discharge will also come with the benefit programs available to those honorably discharged.
Other Than Honorable — The most severe form of administrative discharge, representing a serious departure from the conduct and performance expected of military members. The majority of veterans’ benefits are not available to individuals who receive an Other Than Honorable discharge.
Bad Conduct — A punitive discharge that can only be given out by a court-martial. Virtually all veterans’ benefits are forfeited by a Bad Conduct Discharge.
Dishonorable — A punitive discharge handed out by a court-martial for the most reprehensible conduct, including sexual assault and murder.
Downgraded discharges not only result in the loss of benefits, they carry with them shame and stigma, as well.
As reported by The Bay Area Reporter, “Advocates for LGBT veterans estimate that roughly 114,000 U.S. service members were “involuntarily separated” from the military due to their sexual orientation between the end of World War II and the repeal in 2011 of the homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred LGBT people from serving openly in the military. While many of those veterans could likely qualify to correct or upgrade their discharges, just 8% had done so as of 2018, according to a report presented that April at a conference held at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.”
Vets can also receive help from non-profit organizations like Modern Military Association of America, dedicated to advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and veteran community, or Swords to Ploughshares, which provides assessment and case management, employment and training, housing, and legal assistance to veterans.
In 2007 I was a fresh-out-to-pasture journalist, trying not to lose my sanity as an Army wife and stay at home mom. I had worked most recently as a reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, but my husband, a Special Forces soldier, kept getting deployed. We couldn’t afford a nanny, and no daycare in town stayed open late enough to watch our son until I could get off work.
The Observer offered me an opportunity to write a blog and two weekly columns from home, and that’s how I came to meet Mike Giglio, a fresh-out-of-college writer for Charlotte Magazine, working on a story about military families at Ft. Bragg.
But back in 2007, he came to my house, sat in my living room, made the requisite comments about the adorableness of my toddler, and interviewed me. He has since told me that I was the first person he had interviewed about war. He has interviewed many, many more people since. He wrote then:
Rebekah Sanderlin looks like an Army wife from a movie: the hero pulls out her picture in the opening scene, she has dark hair, engaging eyes, and a warm smile, she’s holding his kid, and you’re already hoping he makes it out of this thing alive.
12 years and as many deployments later, my husband and I are still married and, indeed, he appears to have made it out of this thing alive.
I followed Giglio’s career from a distance after that, watching as his byline hopped up to the big leagues and then across the ocean, first to London and then to Istanbul, and then right into the heart of war.
Now a journalist for The Atlantic, he spent four years living in Turkey and Syria, interviewing members of the Islamic State, their enablers, and legions of others who were pushing back against ISIS’ terror quest for power, embedding with U.S. military units as well as low-level groups of resistance fighters.
His book is part memoir, part chronicle. We see the early movements of ISIS in the form of sources and scoops that grow into defeats and victories. He is unflinching in the descriptions but avoids the war-porn tendencies lesser writers find irresistible. There are no heroes and no villains, only humans showing up, day after day. Characters come and go, lost to war and the swirling chaos of life. There are no neat and tidy endings. This is news – news never ends.
His sparse, direct, writing style is appropriately like chewing on broken glass. A book about ISIS shouldn’t be overwrought. There’s too much gore, too much horror, too much human misery, for a writer in love with adjectives. No one needs those adjectives.
Of an Iraqi Special Forces soldier, he writes:
“So when militiamen kidnapped Ahmed from a checkpoint in Baghdad one day, they didn’t just torture him. They put a circular saw to his forehead and tried to peel off his face. Then they put a hood over his head, shot him five times, and tossed his body in a garbage dump, thinking he was dead. Ahmed survived, though, and was found by an elderly man, who carried him to a hospital. When he recovered, he had gained his nickname – The Bullet, for what couldn’t kill him – and he returned to his turret.
These are not pages to read before bed.
Giglio is captured and nearly executed, and he survives being hit by a suicide bomber. He sets these encounters on the table, like an indifferent dinner party host, as if to say, “Here it is. Make of it what you will.” And, of course, there is only one thing to make of it: ISIS is even worse than you thought.
I read Mike’s book during the vacant, pedestrian, moments of my mom-life. Sitting in my daughter’s gymnastics class, reading about the young Syrian mother who watched helplessly as a wall collapsed on all four of her children during a bombing. In the front seat of my minivan, parked at the high school, waiting for that once-toddler-now-teenager, reading about a man whose seven siblings were all killed by ISIS. Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room while a friend’s wrist was being x-rayed, reading about ISIS fighters gathering body parts from numerous people into one duffel bag, only to leave the bag in the middle of a street.
I read about Mike, being zip-tied and beaten by a jeering mob in Egypt, before being thrown into a prison bus and carted to a sports arena, where sham trials and public executions were being held for political prisoners. And then the zip ties are cut from his wrists and he is inexplicably released. I think about the cub reporter I first met in my North Carolina living room, as eager for adventure as any young soldier.
He is in Iraq, embedded with a battalion from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTF) in Mosul when the results of the 2016 election are announced, and Americans of all political persuasions are melting down. He writes:
“I wondered if, when a country was at war for so long but only a select few ever waged it, the rest of society began to go a certain kind of crazy. Some played at civil war while others vowed to flee to Canada as political refugees, and too many Americans seemed to want to pull a bit of conflict into their lives just when so many people around the world were risking everything to escape from it.”
And then he finally escapes it himself, perhaps for good, writing this about then-new President Trump’s premature declaration of victory over ISIS: “As in the past, America was looking to move on from the region before the war was really over – leaving much of Iraq and Syria in ruins and ISIS still a threat. This was an impulse I embodied, too. As Colonel Arkan had once explained, the thing about going to war far from home is that you can always walk away from it.”
If you’re lucky, Mike. Only the lucky get to walk away.
Bitcoin, gaming and dating apps are now officially banned from government-issued Marine Corps phones. The ruling came down in mid-August that Marines are now no longer allowed to use gambling and dating apps, along with cryptocurrency applications or anything that attempts to override and bypass tools or download rules.
One of the reasons for the ban is because, like all things tech-related, the possibility of these phones become targets is very real. Smartphones are part of most Marines’ professional life, which means they’re full of compromising information. In turn, that makes them a very real target.
This order extends beyond unit issued phones to include personal cell phones. Marines are cautioned not to use any apps that the government has already deemed a risk, like TikTok and WeChat, which has already been banned by the Pentagon.
TikTok and WeChat
TikTok is a popular social media platform that allows users to upload short videos. Pentagon officials worry that the app could be used to spread misinformation and propaganda. The moderators of the platform are censoring content to appease the app’s owners in China.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. There are fears that the company might share user data with the Chinese government, either intentionally through data requests or unintentionally through surveillance software.
Like TikTok, WeChat is a Chinese owned company that’s considered a ‘super-app’ because it combines the functions of financial services, travel, food delivery, ride-sharing, social media, messaging, and more. Its popularity is due in part to the fact that the Chinese government shuts out other foreign tech companies and penalizes people who try to override the laws. WeChat is known to censor and surveil their users on behalf of the government and turn over the government’s information when “sensitive information” is discovered.
This concern over American military members using Chinese-owned apps is nothing new. In fact, concerns about these two applications have been brewing for over a year. Both Microsoft and Twitter are currently in talks to acquire TikTok, but a sale could be far off and incredibly messy. Microsoft wants to buy TikTok in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, but so far in the history of social media, no company has ever split up a social network along regional lines.
Mobile apps like WeChat, which have so obviously been created to be the third arm of government surveillance, pose immediate risks to military members. OPSEC becomes harder and harder to control and maintain in the digital world, and users can inadvertently give away too much information.
A Lance Corporal Learns the Ultimate Lesson
Last year, during a mock training exercise in California, a Maine lance corporal took a selfie that gave up his location, which resulted in his entire artillery unit being taken out by the mock enemy force. More than ten thousand Marines were at Twentynine Palms for an air-ground combat training mission, which was the biggest training event of its kind in decades. IN addition to Marines being present, sailors and NATO forces participated in the event.
The selfie allowed the mock enemy to geo-locate the lance corporal and his unit, which resulted in his ‘death’ and the ‘death’ of the rest of his unit. While the lance corporal learned this lesson without loss of life, others might not be so fortunate, which is one of the many reasons military leaders consistently stress the need for digital OPSEC.
The Marine Corps won’t issue numbers that show just how many Marines have tried to put dating apps, games and cryptocurrency apps on their government phones. Now, any app that can be classified into these categories is blocked from the Apple Store and Google Play. The only applications Marines can access are those that the Marine Corps has determined necessary to conduct authorized activities.
As with other branches of the military, the Marine Corps has the final say in which apps can be installed on official mobile devices.
With what is arguably one of the most badass names in military history, the story of the female aviators nicknamed Nachthexen, or “Night Witches” by German soldiers, tends to fly under a lot of people’s radar (bad pun intended). Flying no-frills wooden planes with ill-fitting uniforms and no parachutes, these Soviet pilots not only faced off against Nazis, but also judgment, doubt, and mistreatment by many of their male counterparts.
From the start of WWII, Russian women were looking for ways to contribute in both support roles at home and in hands-on roles near the front lines. These women had a seasoned advocate in their corner, in the form of Soviet pilot Colonel Marina Raskova.
Raskova, known to many as the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” had already made a name for herself as the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force, with an impressive number of long distance flights already recorded. Once Raskova began receiving letters from women asking how they could help, she used her position within the military to open up new opportunities for them. Her success was helped by the fact that Joseph Stalin personally knew and respected Raskova and her efforts, and in October of 1941, he ordered her to create three female-only air squads. While two of them inevitably became mixed-gendered, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment remained exclusively women for the entirety of its existence.
Around 400 women, ranging in age from 17 to 25, were selected and moved to Engels, where they began training at the Engels School of Aviation. In addition to having to learn years worth of training and information in just a few short months, they also had to deal with misogyny from many of the male soldiers within the Soviet ranks.
Since the women of the 588th were seen by many to be less than, or as “little girls,” they weren’t taken seriously or provided proper equipment. The female pilots were given ill-fitting male uniforms and oversized boots, which they would have to stuff with their own torn up bedding to ensure a better fit. With sexual harassment and ridicule a daily occurrence, these women had to learn quickly how to be stronger both in and outside of battle.
They also weren’t able to equip their planes with things like parachutes due to a lack of funds and strict weight limits for the outdated aircraft they were provided. These planes were crop dusters from the 1920s and typically only used for training purposes. Made predominantly of canvas and plywood, the two-person Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were considered by most to be a death wish if used in combat.
Since the plane itself already posed so many of its own safety issues, flying at night was really their only way to ensure any sort of stealth and safety. Most runs would happen with three planes, the first two meant to draw attention and enemy fire, with the third being the one to drop the bomb. What made this so dangerous is the fact that the third plane, to avoid detection, would have to cut their engine and glide over their target as quietly as possible.
Getting the engine back up and running after the drop was always a “fingers crossed” kind of scenario, given the age and ability of the aircraft. One of the only things these planes offered in their favor was the fact that, due to their slower top speed, they were able to maneuver faster than the German planes, making it harder to get a target on them. In terms of defense munitions on board, there was little to none. Many pilots would have only a loaded pistol, typically leaving the last bullet for themselves, as suicide was preferrable to being captured.
The main goal of the 588th was to disorient and sleep deprive the enemy, and soon after beginning their runs, it became clear that they were successful. Not only were the Nazi’s thrown off by the near-nightly attacks, but they were also particularly incensed when they learned that an all-woman regiment was responsible. The name Night Witches was given by the Nazis — due to the noise the planes would make when they would glide, engines cut, overhead. They described it as the sound of “brooms sweeping.”
Despite their clear aptitude and success, the Night Witches, a name they wore with pride, continued to receive criticism and contempt from many of the males in the Soviet military throughout their time in the war. They were arguably never given the complete appreciation and recognition they deserved. That didn’t seem to bother them too much, however, and they went on to fly around 30,000 sorties and have 23 of their pilots awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
While the roles of women in the military have continued to grow and evolve across the globe, the Night Witches were instrumental in showing that women are just as capable, even with minimal support, respect, equipment, and with all the odds stacked against them. It’s stories like these, the lesser-known tales, that add so much to history. It’s these stories that set the stage for where we are today.
In 2001, communities near Hill Air Force Base in Utah showed a high risk of developing brain cancer, while Fallon Naval Air Station was investigated for acute childhood leukemia incidents, and Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, was revealed to have contributed to water and air pollution when clusters of cancer and leukemia popped up.
At the time, however, officials kept to a firm statement: Correlation does not equate causation.
In other words, it was clear that military bases were contaminating the water, air, and environment. It was clear that there were higher-than-expected cases of severe illness. It was not clear that one caused the other.
Air Force bases, in particular, show high cases of contamination for a few reasons: jet fuel is extremely toxic by itself, but it is also highly flammable, requiring toxic flame retardants. These leak into the ground and contaminate water supplies; jet fuel is also known to pollute the air, especially in areas like airports or flight lines, where there are high volumes of active engines.
So, while it has been clear since the first World War that the United States and its military has a global impact, and therefore an imperative to maintain military superiority so we may continue to defend not only our way of life, but the livelihoods of our friends and allies, the question remains: at what cost?
President Donald Trump is preparing to lift restrictions on surplus military equipment that can be passed on to local law enforcement agencies in spite of past concerns that armored vehicles and other gear were escalating confrontations with protesters.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate Trump was preparing to sign an executive order undoing an Obama administration directive that restricted police agencies’ access to grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, firearms, ammunition, and other surplus military equipment.
Trump’s order would fully restore the program under which “assets that would otherwise be scrapped can be re-purposed to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement better protect public safety and reduce crime,” according to the documents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions could outline the changes during a August 28 speech to the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, a person familiar with the matter said. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the plan ahead of an official announcement.
The changes would be another way in which Trump and Sessions are enacting a law-and-order agenda that views federal support of local police as a way to drive down violent crime.
National police organizations have long been pushing Trump to hold to his promise to once again make the equipment available to local and state police departments, many of which see it as needed to ensure officers aren’t put in danger when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks. An armored vehicle played a key role in the police response to the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
In 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism.
Groups across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the militarization of police, arguing that the equipment encourages and escalates confrontations with officers. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 that severely limited the surplus program, partly triggered by public outrage over the use of military gear during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police responded in riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs, and armored vehicles. At times they also pointed assault rifles at protesters.
Obama’s order prohibited the federal government from providing grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, and firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or greater to police. As of December, the agency overseeing the program had recalled at least 100 grenade launchers, more than 1,600 bayonets, and 126 tracked vehicles — those that run on continuous, tank-like tracks instead of wheels — that were provided through the program.
Trump vowed to rescind the executive order in a written response to a Fraternal Order of Police questionnaire that helped him win an endorsement from the organization of rank-and-file officers. He reiterated his promise during a gathering of police officers in July, saying the equipment still on the streets is being put to good use.
“In fact, that stuff is disappearing so fast we have none left,” Trump said.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said in a statement August 27 that it is “exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible” for the administration to lift the ban.
“Just a few summers ago, our nation watched as Ferguson raised the specter of increased police militarization. The law enforcement response there and in too many places across the country demonstrated how perilous, especially for Black and Brown communities, a militarized police force can be,” the LDF said.
“The President’s decision to make this change in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville and against a backdrop of frayed relations between police and communities of color further reflects this administration’s now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country,” the organization said.
The documents, first reported by USA Today, say Trump’s order would emphasize public safety over the appearance of the heavily equipment. They describe much of the gear as “defensive in nature,” intended to protect officers from danger.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the expected move.
Most police agencies rarely require military equipment for daily use but see a need to have it available, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.
“It is hard to imagine any situation where a grenade launcher or bayonet would be something that a major police department would need, but defensive shields and armored vehicles kept on reserve will be welcome,” he said.
Sessions has said he believes improving morale for local law enforcement is key to curbing spikes in violence in some cities. The plan to restore access to military equipment comes after Sessions has said he intends to pull back on court-enforceable improvement plans with troubled police departments, which he says can malign entire agencies and make officers less aggressive on the street.
Consent decrees were a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to overhaul certain law enforcement agencies, sometimes after racially charged encounters like the one in Ferguson.
We sent our “Vet On The Street,” Marine Corps veteran and comic James P. Connolly, to Santa Monica, California, to find out if your average civilian knows the term for someone who lies about their service (aka “stolen valor”). They have some good ideas … or not.
In January, a report from Inside Defense broke the news that the US Navy’s F-35 variant, the most expensive in the Joint Strike Fighter family, had an issue with the nose gear that made takeoffs untenably rough and the aircraft unsuited for carrier launches.
The Navy’s F-35C has a history of problems with its development as it attempts to master the tricky art of catapult launches from aircraft carriers, but the nose-gear issue could set back the F-35C into the 2020s if an innovative solution is not found quickly.
“This is a very stiff airplane, even though the oscillations about the same magnitude as you would see in a Super Hornet. It beats the pilot up pretty good,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters at the McAleese/Credit Suisse defense conference earlier this month, US Naval Institute News reported.
F-35C pilots are “hurting after doing three or four of these [launches] and in some instances even banging his half-a-million-dollar helmet on the canopy,” Bogdan said. “That’s not good for the canopy or the helmet. So we knew we had an issue there.”
Testing at a land-based US Navy catapult system showed that instead of a costly and lengthy redesign of the F-35C’s nose section, some smaller adjustments may suffice.
Jeff Babione, the general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, echoed that sentiment at the company’s office in the Washington, DC, area, telling reporters the company had worked on a few simple changes that seemed to yield results. Babione said Lockheed Martin changed the way the pilot straps in and their head and arm positions, as well as reduced the “holdback,” or stress on the plane, in the moments before launch.
“The initial indication is some of those techniques improved” the F-35C’s launches, Babione said. He conceded that the real testing would be done by the Navy aboard carriers “to see whether or not those changes were successful.”
The make-or-break tests of the launch will take place at sea later this year.