Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Two Army soldiers were killed in close firefight in Afghanistan on June 25, 2019, the Pentagon said. The soldiers were fighting Taliban militants, according to The New York Times.

The Pentagon identified the two soldiers as Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Fort Carson, Colorado and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, of the 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group, in Fort Hood, Texas.

The two soldiers died in southern Uruzgan province, the Pentagon said in an emailed statement. The New York Times reported that Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, reported the location as eastern Wardak province.


Thus far in 2019, there have been nine service member fatalities in Afghanistan, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. The deaths of Riley and Johnston occurred just before a round of peace talks between the US and the Taliban is scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar starting June 29, 2019.

Riley was from Heilbronn, Germany and joined the Army in 2006. The Green Beret veteran earned several awards during his service was on his sixth deployment, according to a release from the US Army Special Operations Command, including the Bronze Star, NATO Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Bronze Star medal.

“Mike was an experienced Special Forces noncommissioned officer and the veteran of five previous deployments to Afghanistan. We will honor his service and sacrifice as we remain steadfast in our commitment to our mission,” Col. Lawrence G. Ferguson, commander of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), said in a statement provided to INSIDER.

Johnston was “the epitome of what we as Soldiers all aspire to be: intelligent, trained, always ready,” according to Lt. Col. Stacy M. Enyeart, commander of 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). He joined the Army in 2013 and earned a Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal, among awards.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Purple Heart medal.

(U.S. Army)

The two soldiers were deployed with Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, part of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. There are currently about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan focused primarily on supporting Afghan forces, according to the New York Times.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission did not respond to a request for more information regarding the circumstances of their deaths on June 27, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Seasoned astronaut has a big problem with NASA spacesuits

NASA, you have a spacesuit problem.

That was the crux of a message delivered on Sep. 6, 2019 by Sandra “Sandy” Magnus, a seasoned former astronaut, during an official meeting of spaceflight safety experts in Houston, Texas, on Sep. 6, 2019.

Magnus brought up the issue on behalf of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), which held its latest quarterly meeting at Johnson Space Center. The group operates independently and is tasked with “evaluating NASA’s safety performance and advising the Agency on ways to improve that performance.”


NASA is racing to send people back to the moon, ideally landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024, with its new Artemis program. (The last time anyone visited the moon was December 1972.) Naturally, ASAP had a lot to say about NASA’s ambitious new effort.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II floats outside NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger.

(NASA)

Magnus, who flew to the International Space Station (ISS) twice and has spent more than five months in orbit, zeroed in on spacesuits required for the Artemis program’s missions.

“An integral system required to put boots on the moon are the boots,” Magnus said.

She added that spacesuits are essentially “one-person spaceships” that deserve similar levels of funding and scrutiny.

“They’re complex and they have stringent safety requirements, and are a critical component of not only the lunar program, but actually any potential exploration path that human spaceflight may engage upon in the future,” Magnus said.

NASA is struggling to keep its current spacesuits operational

Right now, NASA’s only operational EVA spacesuits are aboard the ISS. They’re each about 40 years old — and not getting any younger.

The panel previously reported that NASA is struggling to upgrade the suits, let alone maintain them.

“The problem does not lie simply in the fact that the suits are old; the fact that manufacturers of several critical suit components, including the very fabric of the suits, have now gone out of business,” ASAP wrote in April 2019.

This in part led to the cancellation in March 2019 of what was supposed to be the first all-female spacewalk.

NASA has been working on a new spacesuit system called the xEMU, which stands for “Exploration Extra-vehicular Mobility Unit.” The xEMU program is designed to both replace the aging relics that astronauts wear outside the space station and also pave the way for crewed exploration of the moon and Mars.

Magnus acknowledged that NASA has invested some money into researching, developing, and building prototypes, like the Z-2 spacesuit (shown at the top of this story). But she argued that the program isn’t moving fast enough.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

A prototype of NASA’s xEMU spacesuit program called the Z-2. The agency is designing new suits for astronauts to explore planetary surfaces.

(NASA)

“Up to this point there’s been a lack of priority placed on producing these next-generation spacesuits,” Magnus said.

She added that, while the xEMU project is now being managed by a division of the Artemis program called the Gateway — a small space station that would orbit the moon, and what astronauts may eventually use as a pit-stop for surface missions — ASAP feels the program needs to break out on its own and get more resources.

“In order to produce a safe and reliable lunar suit to meet the Artemis program’s 2024 deadline, and — because of the broad applicability, complexity, and critical safety aspects of spacesuits — in general, we think NASA needs to immediately create a formal, structured spacesuit program,” she said, noting that it should have “a well-defined budget, a schedule including critical milestones, and provide both the authority and responsibility to this entity to produce this critical piece of equipment.”

She added: “We believe anything less than full, robust program-level attention to this system reduces the potential to not only field the capability, but do so in a safe manner.”‘

‘It appears that Artemis is off to a great start’

But Artemis still needs to clear its first major hurdle, which it is the bureaucracy of federal budgeting.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in May 2019 that the agency needs a id=”listicle-2640265340″.6 billion “down payment” to get started in earnest on the program. A month later he added that landing on the moon in five years may require -6 billion annually — a total of -30 billion — on top of NASA’s existing yearly budget of about billion.

Despite that challenge, ASAP member George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, was optimistic about the prognosis.

“It appears that Artemis is off to a great start. If Congress agrees to provide the needed funding, NASA may have a real shot at achieving the 2024 goal,” Nield said. “At the same time it will be important to remember what can go wrong along the way, and what things need to be done to ensure crew safety.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This epic bachelor party ended in a Coast Guard rescue

The U.S.  says it rescued eight boaters from a grounded 21-foot recreational boat near an island located about 15 miles north of Charleston, .


The  command center in Charleston received a call early Saturday advising that the boat had run aground on a sandbar near Capers Island.

It later turned out the grounded boat was from a bachelor party gone wrong.


A helicopter crew hoisted four boaters and took them to Mount Pleasant Regional Airport. The rescue crew returned and hoisted the four remaining boaters.

The  says all boaters were reported to be in good condition.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Troops on the border practice nonlethal riot control

Active-duty troops deployed to the US-Mexico border are increasingly bracing for confrontations rather than just running razor wire to deter their entry in the US, images published by the US military show.

In November 2018, US troops have been conducting non-lethal riot control training at bases in Arizona and California, and tactical training is expected to continue.


Soldiers and Marines were also apparently present on Nov. 25, 2018, at San Ysidro, a busy port of entry where border agents clashed with migrants, using tear gas against those who rushed the border.

Watch US troops engage in tactical training in preparation for violence:​

This is how US troops are training for confrontations at the border.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, finish non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Marines attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7 join Customs and Border Protection at San Ysidro Point of Entry, California, Nov. 25, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Untalan)

Active-duty military personnel with riot shields were present at the San Ysidro port of entry Nov. 25, 2018, when CBP agents used tear gas and tactics to drive back migrants who rushed the border, some of whom threw rocks at US agents. Some critics have called the CBP response an overreaction.

US troops are authorized to provide force protection for border agents, but are barred by law from law enforcement in the US.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, take cover to conduct non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Soldiers from the 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, conduct non-lethal riot control training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)

300 active-duty troops previously stationed in Texas and Arizona were shifted to California.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This 9-11 memorial hosts a unique survivor

On September 11, 2001, America was attacked. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. From the ashes of that horrible day rose a wave of patriotism that unified a nation to say in one voice, “We will never forget.”


Across the country, and especially in the state of New York, monuments and memorials to the people we lost that September day stand in keeping that promise. Of course, the most prominent of these is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan which is located at the World Trade Center. The memorial fountains bear the names of the people that perished there nearly two decades ago and the museum houses incredible artifacts and stories collected from that day. However, remnants of that day can be found elsewhere too.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

One of the reflecting pools (9/11 Memorial Museum)

Roughly 190 miles north of the World Trade Center lies the city of Saratoga Springs, NY. Just over 30 miles north of the state capital of Albany, Saratoga Springs is a hub for thoroughbred horse racing as the home to the Saratoga Race Course as well as the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The city is also in close proximity to the Saratoga National Park which preserves the Revolutionary War site of the Battles of Saratoga. Nestled among some of the town’s famous natural mineral springs stands a sculpted metal structure paying tribute to the tragedies that took place on 9/11.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Tempered By Memory (Author)

Crafted from World Trade Center steel, Tempered By Memory serves as the focal point of the town’s 9/11 Memorial Monument. A plaque at the memorial explains to visitors that the Saratoga Springs community lost residents in the attack and how first responders, ironworkers, and humanitarians from the area assisted with response and recovery efforts in the aftermath. In 2002, Saratoga Springs residents and businesses created a respite program which granted retreats to 178 NYC firefighters, policemen, and their families.

In 2010, the Saratoga Arts Center Council, Saratoga Springs City Council, and the Saratoga Springs Naval Support Unit entered into a collaboration to bring steel artifacts from the World Trade Center to the community. After a year of work by local sculptors and a volunteer team of ironworkers, crane operators, and community-wide support, Tempered By Memory was completed in 2011. On the eleventh anniversary of the attack, the sculpture was donated by Saratoga Arts to the City of Saratoga Springs. Reinforced by the healing and restorative properties of the natural mineral springs that surround it, Tempered By Memory invites visitors to quietly reflect on the history of the site and transcend the tragedy.

However, if the sculpture brings more pain than healing and a visitor finds themself in need of further inspiration of hope, they need only look off to the side. Planted a few yards away from the center of the memorial is a rather unassuming tree. Compared to the large and lush trees in the park, this diminutive Callery Pear Tree appears to be out of place.

In fact, the tree is called the Survivor Tree and was grown from a seedling of the last standing Callery Pear Tree that once stood on the site of the original World Trade Center. The attack on 9/11 nearly destroyed the original tree which now stands at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Since its return to the site in 2010, the original Survivor Tree has spawned seedlings which have been gifted to communities that have endured tragedy. In addition to Saratoga Springs, recipients of Survivor Tree seedlings include Las Vegas, Parkland, Boston, Manchester, and Paris. The trees serve as a reminder of hope, strength, and unity through adversity.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Saratoga Springs Survivor Tree (Author)

Though memorial events for the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack will look different compared to previous years as a result of COVID, tributes like Tempered By Memory and Survivor Trees across the country and around the world stand as monuments to the memory of the people lost on that terrible day and the loved ones that they left behind.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force just grounded its entire B-1 Bomber fleet

US Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the entire Air Force bomber fleet, ordered a safety stand down for its B-1B Lancer bombers on June 7, 2018, following an emergency landing by a Lancer in Texas in May 2018.

“During the safety investigation process following an emergency landing of a B-1B in Midland, Texas, an issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down,” the command said in a release. “As issues are resolved aircraft will return to flight.”


A B-1B bomber from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas made an emergency landing at Midland International Airport in western Texas on May 1, 2018, after an in-flight emergency. Emergency responders made it to the runway before the plane landed, and none of the four crew members onboard were injured.

It was not clear what caused the emergency, though fire crews that responded used foam on the plane.

Photos that emerged of the bomber involved showed that at least one of its four cockpit escape hatches had been blown, but the ejection seat did not deploy.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight
Aircrew members from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota conduct post-flight checks at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Aug.u00a06, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)

The B-1’s four-man crew includes a pilot, copilot, and two weapons officers seated behind them. All four sit in ejection seats and each seat has an escape hatch above it, according to Air Force Times. Pulling the ejection handle starts an automatic sequence in which the hatch blows off and a STAPAC rocket motor launches the seats from the aircraft. The entire process takes only seconds.

It was not clear at the time of the incident whether the blown hatch or hatches had been recovered or whether the ejection seats had failed to deploy.

A Safety Investigation Board, a panel made up of experts who investigate incidents and recommend responses, is looking into the incident at Midland, the Global Strike Command release said.

The Global Strike Command stand-down order comes about a month after the Air Force ordered a day-long, fleet-wide stand-down while it conducted a safety review following a series of deadly accidents. At the time, the Air Force said it was seeing fewer accidents but that 18 pilots and crew members had been killed since October 1, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Blooming together: Our salute to moms

May is a month to celebrate military spouses and mothers, so let’s give a salute to all the military spouse moms holding the family together and keeping things going on the homefront!

Military life is always challenging, but it’s especially difficult when your service member is away and you’re the solo parent. This month, we shine a spotlight on military spouse moms navigating through deployments. Thank you, mothers, for your generous love and sacrifices.


To the mothers missing their service member:

We know it’s difficult when your service member is gone. It doesn’t matter how long they are away, whether it is a deployment, a TDY, or just a few days of training. We salute you, moms who are on your own. We know there are times when you cry in the shower or in your car, just so the kids won’t see your tears. And we know that you have what it takes to keep going.

“I’ve temporarily had to say see you later to my best friend, my teammate, and my partner in crime. My husband deploying was extremely difficult on myself and our four children. However, going through all of this without my husband allowed me to experience first-hand that I can, I will, I do, and I did handle deployment like a boss.”
– Megan, Navy spouse

To the pregnant mothers:

We see you, moms who are juggling the difficulties of pregnancy with the obstacles of military life. To all those trying to plan a baby in between PCS moves and deployments, and experiencing sickness and fatigue on your own—we salute you! Even when you feel exhausted, you are everything your baby needs.

“I’m about to be a mom of two Irish twins. My son is 9 months old right now. I’m due again in three months. I’m very nervous not having my husband by my side for this one but I have to be strong for the both of us.”
– Meagan, Army spouse

To the mothers of little ones:

We salute you, mothers surrounded by diapers and bottles, unfolded laundry, and art projects. When you feel like you’re going crazy, remember that you are not alone! You’re part of an incredible club of mothers who are making things work one day at a time.

“I am a mom of four under 7. I took a leave of absence from my job a few months into this deployment. I mentally couldn’t handle my career and solo parenting. It was the best decision I made, and has given me an opportunity to experience being a stay-at-home mom. Because I have so many young children, routine is really important.”
– Emily, National Guard spouse

To the mothers of teens:

We know you’ve been feeling invisible ever since the middle school years. Even when your kids treat you like a taxi and meal delivery service, know that you are still their rock. We salute you for all the times you stay up late, taking care of the emotional needs of these bigger kids.

“Working mom of three teenage daughters here. That means this momma goes 100 mph six days a week. As tired as I am sometimes, I enjoy taking them to practices and games.”
– Terri, Army spouse

To the mothers struggling with infertility:

Our hearts go out to the mothers who have struggled with the pain, loss, and disappointment of infertility. Whether you are already a mother hoping for more children, or you are longing to someday hold your own child, we see you and we salute you.

“We were going through IVF treatment during a year-long deployment. It was the most difficult deployment by far because I was going through a medical treatment that was draining emotionally and physically. It was a hard year, but it was a year of growth.”
– Linda, Air Force spouse

To the mothers who are caregivers:

As a mother, you already give your energy, your love, and your care to your children. To those who also care for their service member or take on the responsibility of aging parents, we salute your generosity and we wish you all the patience in the world.

“I’ve lost a lot of my own independence and free time which is probably the hardest. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Moving my mother-in-law in actually ended up being way harder and less help than we had hoped.”
– Caitlin, National Guard spouse

To the stepmothers and blended families:

They should call you the bonus mom when you take on bonus kids and open your heart to his, yours, and ours. We salute your love, your patience, and your perseverance.

“We are a quintessential blended family. We each have children from previous marriages. I am pregnant with our second “ours” baby. Sea duty life has rocked our world for the last three years. He’s been gone as much as he’s been home.”
– Julie, Navy spouse

To the mothers in dual military marriages:

You are juggling all the responsibilities, and so much falls on your shoulders. You are supporting your spouse’s military career, while pursuing your own, and trying to do what’s best for your children too. We salute you and thank you for your service!

“It’s hard being the service member and the spouse. Sometimes it’s easier to go to work and focus on a mission than it is to stay at home with the kids and not hear from him.”
– Lauren, Navy married to a Marine

Whatever stage you are in, military spouse, we support you and wish you a happy Mother’s Day!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Zombie cicadas in the US lure victims with promises of sex before passing on a deadly, mind-controlling parasite

A parasitic fungus can control the minds of cicadas, leading them to act like the undead.

Researchers at West Virginia University first discovered these “zombie cicadas” last summer. They found that the bugs douse other cicadas with spores that cause the same infection, so the scientists nicknamed the cicadas “flying salt shakers of death.” But they didn’t fully understand how the psychedelic fungus — named massospora — tricks cicadas into spreading the disease to so many healthy counterparts.

The possessed cicadas reemerged in West Virginia in June, giving the researchers a chance to answer that question.

In a recent study, scientists describe how massospora manipulates male cicadas into flicking their wings in a pattern that imitates females’ mating invitations. That sham siren call then lures in unsuspecting healthy males.

When the healthy males wander over and try to mate to with their infected brethren, the parasite gains a new victim.

The fungus tweaks cicadas’ behavior against its best interest

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefightA swarm of cicadas take over a bush near Trenton, Ohio. Pat Auckerman/The Journal/AP

The most sinister aspect of massospora is that the fungus eats away at infected cicadas genitals, butts, and abdomens, replacing them with fungal spores.

The insects’ bodies “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” Brian Lovett, a coauthor of the new study, said in a press release.

Lovett and his team found that even though infected cicadas can lose up to one-third of their bodies to the fungus, they continue to roam, fly, and fornicate as if nothing’s wrong. That maximizes the parasite’s spread.

To make matters worse, the infection causes cicadas’ libido to skyrocket — they “try to mate with everything they encounter,” the researchers said.

“It’s very clear that the pathogen is pulling the behavioral levers of the cicada to cause it to do things which are not in the interest of the cicada, but is very much in the interest of the pathogen,” Lovett said.

He added that this type of behavioral tweak is similar to how the rabies virus modifies its hosts’ behavior.

“When you’re infected with rabies, you become aggressive, you become afraid of water and you don’t swallow,” Lovett said. “The virus is passed through saliva and all of those symptoms essentially turn you into a rabies-spreading machine where you’re more likely to bite people.”

Zombie cicadas aren’t dangerous to people 

The study also pinpointed when during their life cycle the cicadas may get infected.

Baby cicadas — called nymphs — spend the first 17 years of their lives underground, feeding on plant roots. According to Matt Kasson, another study author, some nymphs could encounter the fungus as they dig their burrows.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefightBrian Lovett holds up a cicada infected by massospora, a parasitic fungus. WVU Photo/Angie Macias

“The fungus could more or less lay in wait inside its host for the next 17 years until something awakens it, perhaps a hormone cue,” Kasson said in the release.

Alternatively, the nymphs might also get infected in their 17th year, on their way up to the surface.Either way, these infected cicadas are harmless to humans.

“They’re very docile,” Lovett said. “You can walk right up to one, pick it up to see if it has the fungus (a white to yellowish plug on its back end) and set it back down. They’re not a major pest in any way.”


MIGHTY HISTORY

Drones vs. Delta: Who do you think won the first round?

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

It was 1994 when my Delta Troop and I were training in the desert in preparation to deploy to the Mid-Eastern theater where there was much misbehaving going on. We spent a particular day primarily calling in anti-armor attacks from MH-60 Blackhawk (Hawkers) helicopters toting the venerable and extraordinarily deadly Hellfire missile.

We rotated ourselves onto a hilltop as Forward Observers choosing targets and directing the helo strikes. We used a Vietnam-era LASER designator called the MULE. The MULE “painted” the target with a LASER that the helo-mounted Hellfire could track all the way to the target.


Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

ANPAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment (MULE)

Some men laughed at the MULE, but theirs was a shallow laugh as none of us could find fault with the noble seeker, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I intentionally picked armor targets as far away as possible, some 8,000 meters and beyond, to challenge the Hellfire capabilities. The challenge was always accepted, and the missiles never missed.

In addition to calling in fire from aircraft, we also launched Hellfires from our six-wheel drive Austrian-made assault vehicles using an improvised launch pedestal welded by our mechanics. Success was enjoyed as well with that highly mobile platform.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Vehicle-mounted Hellfire launch; we often joked that we got sleepy waiting for the Hellfire to reach its distant targets

Toward late afternoon our troop leadership introduced us to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who heard there was a group of Delta men training nearby and just had to come show off his latest Research and Development endeavor — a remote control pilotless aircraft. None of us really cared about him, or his drone but rank still had its privileges so ok…

He stood proudly amongst us and beamed as he bragged on his miniature airplane. He held his Ground Control Unit in his hands explaining that his drone was at the moment several kilometers to our southwest and that it had a ,000 instrument payload that included a pilot’s Situational Awareness (SA) camera focused ahead of the aircraft.

It was a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven drone with a wingspan of about 12′. Just as interest waned, he brought the drone in tight and had it scream a few feet over our heads. That was actually pretty cool, and questions started coming out for the colonel: how fast, how high, what duration, how many pounds payload… all measure of questions about the drone’s capabilities.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

This tragic friendly fire incident destroyed this Abrams tank with a Hellfire

“Sir, what’s the learning curve like on piloting that craft?” came my question.

“I’ll tell you what,” the colonel began as he stepped toward me. “I’ll let you see for yourself; give her a spin!” and he reached the ground control unit with its long whip antenna toward me. I immediately recoiled, not wanting to fool with all this expensive enigma.

“Fly it, a$hole!” the brothers started in on me.

“Yeah, get you some-o-that, chicken $hit!”

“Fly the damn plane, jacka$!”

And so it went, with the colonel thrusting the unit in my hands. All flight controls were there; all health inputs for the drone were displayed: speed, altitude, heading, fuel level, and others that I didn’t recognize. In the center of the unit was a screen displaying the done’s SA camera video feed.

It was very basic. All that was readily recognizable was black for the ground, and white for the sky. The black was toward the bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen white. There was a crosshair that cut across the screen representing an artificial horizon. I had seen similar instruments in the cockpit of an airplane, but as for flying these drones, I was fresh out of any experience whatsoever!

The true horizon on the screen was, of course, the line where the black (ground) met with the white (sky). The true horizon then should be under the aircraft’s artificial horizon for safe, unobstructed flight. To keep level flight like the colonel told me, all I had to do was keep the two horizon lines parallel… and not breathe.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

A representative artificial horizon from an aircraft cockpit. Here, brown represents ground and blue represents sky; where the two meet is the true horizon. The yellow horizontal line represents the aircraft’s artificial horizon as it appears with the aircraft parked on the ground.

“Just keep that baby flat and stable; just hold with what you got,” directed the colonel who then stepped back, turned and addressed the men in regard to how any plain-ol’ idiot could fly the thing, just not in those exact words. He really was proud of and loved his job so.

As he babbled to the boys, I imagined somehow that the amount of black seemed to be expanding into the white somewhat… and then I was sure that the black was indeed encroaching more on the white, headed up toward that artificial horizon line… “Hey, Sir…”

“Just keep her flat and stable,” the colonel yawned as he yapped to the yokels. Now the black rose up above the drone’s artificial horizon on the screen. It was time to hit the ejection lever!

“Sir I think you better see this!” I insisted as I stepped up and thrust the control unit in his face.

“Juuuust keep’r flaaaaa… DOH!!”

With that, the colonel snatched the unit from my hands and yanked back on the joystick with Ren and Stimpy bulging eyes. When the colonel had passed off the controls to me, there was flat terrain below. Unfortunately, while he was delivering his dissertation, the drone approached a hill mass that was taller than the drone was high. The video screen blipped out.

“OH MY GOD YOU’VE… YOU’VE… FLOWN IT INTO A MOUNTAIN!”

You see, that right there… that is why I did NOT want any part of the colonel’s toy. That thing was not such a piece of cake to operate as the man would have us believe. Let’s face it, all I was doing was standing with a box in my hand — I was not operating it at all!

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

A typical modern control unit for a drone; note the SA video feed screen and joy sticks

I was fire-spittin’ mad thinking about that ,000.00 waste. The boys were howling like banshees now which salted the wound. I knew as well as the next man you can’t bleed in the presence of sharks. Visions of myself in the squadron cartoon book filled my head. This event had certainly been most fitting fodder… ah, but as it is with photography, so it is with being the cartoonist: the photographer never has to be in the pictures.

The colonel could see I was mad as hell as he quickly called out:

“Ok, ok… it was absolutely not his fault, not his fault at all… he was just doing exactly what I told him to. It was entirely my fault!” That was true and gracious of him, but I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at that stupid airplane… and especially at that Goddamned mountain!

It was two days later my troop leader pulled up in a jeep and approached me carrying… a stick? He reached it out toward me and said:

“Hey, that drone colonel made it out to the crash site and wanted you to have this.”

I held in my hand a two-bladed wooden propeller about 18-inches long. I’m pretty sure that Colonel meant no dig or sarcasm by the gesture, but now I was mad at the world again, and didn’t like his little gift, not one little bit. I walked up to a trash dumpster near our tents. With a swoop of my arm, I cracked that propeller in two on the corner of the dumpster and flung the halves inside.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

So twenty-six years ago we scoffed at the colonel’s drone. What was it good for? What was the application? He was some boyish dude out playing with his toy. Little did we know at the time what an impact that research would have on the world, eh? Today the likes of drones are all but taking over in their application in our everyday lives.

Just yesterday my 13-year-old son and I went out to a nearby field to fly a remote Radio Controlled (RC) hobby airplane. After many successful laps my son reached the control my way and asked:

“Want to give it a try, Dad?”

…to which I replied to my now confused son:

“NO, DAMNIT… NO, NO, NO!!!”

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Sangin falls to the Taliban

The Taliban captured a key district center in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Thursday while in the country’s north, an officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen, officials said.


The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.

The British who took over southern Helmand in 2006 were headquartered at Camp Sebastian, which at its peak was the center for 137 bases in Helmand. Most of Britain’s more than 400 military deaths occurred in Helmand province — in Sangin alone, Britain lost 104 soldiers.

Since the withdrawal of foreign NATO combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and with only a smaller, U.S.-led advise and training mission left behind, Sangin has been seen as a major tests of whether Afghan security forces can hold off advancing Taliban fighters.

Also read: US forces are quickly cutting off ISIS’ only escape route in Syria

The district’s police chief, Mohammad Rasoul, said the Taliban overran Sangin center early on Thursday morning.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, also issued a statement claiming the Taliban capture of Sangin.

Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from several kilometers (miles) away from the district center, Rasoul said the district headquarters had been poorly protected and that at the time of the Taliban siege, only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty.

Afghan security forces were now amassing nearby for a full-scale counter-attack in a bid to retake Sangin, Rasoul added, though he did not say when the assault would occur and how many forces would be involved.

“We are preparing our reinforcements to recapture the district,” Rasoul said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Afghan military would seek the help of international coalition forces in the area.

NATO spokesman William Salvin said in a statement that Afghan troops remained in Sangin district but had relocated several kilometers (miles) outside the district center. He said the relocation was necessitated because of the extensive damage to the district center by the Taliban.

In Kabul, a lawmaker from Sangin, Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, urged the military to move quickly to retake the district, saying its fall could have devastating consequences for Helmand, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah has in the past months also come under constant and heavy attack by the Taliban.

“The seizure of Sangin is a major tactical triumph for the Taliban,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Thursday. The insurgent group “has taken over a major urban space in one of its major stronghold provinces, amplifying the major threat that the group poses to Afghanistan nearly 16 years after it was removed from power.”

Sangin is also one of the biggest opium markets in Afghanistan, which saw over 4,800 metric tons produced countrywide in 2016 — more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Efforts at poppy eradication in Afghanistan have been severely restricted because of the insecurity in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the bulk of the crop is grown.

Opium, which is used to make heroin, is a major source of income for the insurgents and the Taliban levy taxes on opium that moves through its territory.

“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Helmand — it’s strategically located near Pakistan, it’s a bastion of the opium trade,” said Kugelman. “Perhaps the biggest reason why the British focused so much on Sangin is that they had invested so much over the years in trying to stabilize the place — and had suffered many combat deaths in the process.”

In northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Mafuz Akbari said the insider attack on Thursday that claimed the lives on nine policemen took place at a security post and that the assailant escaped under the cover of darkness.

Afghanistan has seen a spike in so-called insider attacks. In such incidents, attackers who turn their rifles and kill colleagues usually end up stealing their weapons and fleeing the scene to join insurgents.

Akbari said the assailant had gone over to the Taliban. He also claimed that the attacker and the Taliban gathered the bodies of the dead policemen and set them on fire.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied that a policeman had been involved or that the Taliban had burned the bodies of the policemen.

The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. The region is remote and not accessible to reporters.

Afghan forces have come under intensified pressure by insurgents in both Helmand and Kunduz.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Puerto Ricans gained US citizenship just in time to be drafted for World War I

In 2017, Puerto Ricans battled economic hardship and the lasting effects of Hurricane Maria at home as they celebrated 100 years of American citizenship. On March 2, 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act was passed by Congress, making the island a U.S. territory and guaranteeing citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born after April 25, 1898. With citizenship came all the requirements of citizenship: serving on juries, paying taxes, and being drafted for military service.

Just in time for World War I.


Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Welcome to the party, pal.

It was just twenty years after the United States usurped the island’s Spanish rulers in the Spanish-American War and annexed Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States. By the end of the United States’ participation in World War I, the Selective Service Act would draft some 2.8 million men, sending an estimated 10,000 troops to France every day. The U.S. Army had come a long way from the third-rate militia it was before the war. To meet the requirements of becoming a great, global power, it needed the manpower of one.

American territories, which at the time included Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and others, were exempt from the draft. The legislature of Puerto Rico immediately asked Congress to extend conscription to American territories – namely Puerto Rico. But this was purely at the request of the Puerto Ricans.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

Puerto Rican Cpl. Ricardo LaFontaine in 1917.

In all, some 236,000 Puerto Ricans from the island signed up for selective service for a potential draft notice. Of those, 18,000 would go on to serve in the war. But they weren’t always welcome. African-American Puerto Ricans, like many minorities in the U.S., weren’t entirely welcome and ended up in segregated units. For those Puerto Ricans not of African descent, they would be assigned to some regular units in the U.S. military. Still, President Wilson, in the face of discouragement from the War Department, created a Puerto Rican Division.

A full 70 percent of those Puerto Ricans who signed up for service in World War I were rejected for no other reason than the War Department didn’t know what to do with them in a segregated Army. Despite this, there has long been a conspiracy theory that held Puerto Rico was only granted citizenship so they could fight in the war. If that were true, the U.S. would have sent a lot more Puerto Ricans than it did.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hundreds of trapped ISIS fighters are trying to escape Syria

Hundreds of defectors from Islamic State have massed in Syria’s Idlib province, with many planning to cross the nearby Turkish border and find ways back to the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.


Several dozen former fighters have already made it across the heavily patrolled frontier to towns and cities in Turkey’s south in recent weeks, the Guardian has confirmed. Four Saudi Arabian extremists arrived in a southern Turkish community in early September after paying smugglers $2,000 each for the perilous journey past border guards who have shot dead scores of infiltrators this year alone.

The exodus of fighters from areas controlled by ISIS to other parts of Syria and Iraq has continued throughout the past year, as the terror group has lost much of its former heartland to a concerted assault by Iraqi troops, forces allied to the Syrian regime and a US-led air coalition in both countries.

However, large numbers of militants and their families are now trying to leave the war-battered states altogether – posing significant challenges to a global intelligence community that, for the most part, views them as a hostile and unmanageable threat, and sees limited scope for their reintegration.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight
Image from VOA.

A Saudi national who fled Syria in late August told the Guardian that as many as 300 former ISIS members, many of them Saudis, had established a community north of Idlib city, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

“Most want to leave, like me,” said the 26-year-old, who called himself Abu Saad. “A lot of them realise that the group they were with tricked them. Others don’t trust Nusra. There are not many who believe that the people that they were with were on the right path.”

Abu Saad said the Saudi nationals, as well some Europeans, Moroccans, and Egyptians, had gathered together as a buffer against al-Nusra, which has exerted its influence across Idlib and the surrounding countryside by toppling its rivals. ISIS has not had an organised presence in the area since early 2014 when it was ousted by a rebel assault that saw its members flee east to the town of al-Bab in the Aleppo hinterland and further into Minbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, and Deir Azzour.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight
ISIS patrol the streets of Raqqa, Syria. Image from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Former members of the group, however, have steadily been returning to Idlib and seeking refuge since late 2015. “That was when I left,” said Abu Saad, speaking days after he arrived in southern Turkey. “Others joined me later, and more are coming now.”

The full scale of the extremist exodus from ISIS-held parts of Iraq and Syria remains unclear, with most of the land it conquered having been recaptured, leaving a divided and demoralized rump with next to nowhere to hide. One of ISIS’s two main centers of power – Mosul in Iraq – fell in February, and the other – Raqqa in Syria – is slipping further into the hands of US-backed Kurdish forces who had already hounded the group from most of Syria’s northeast.

Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to have been killed in the battle to retain territory it seized from mid-2014, and thousands more homegrown extremists are believed to have returned to their communities.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight
An ISOF APC among the rubble in Mosul, Iraq. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

But the numbers of foreign fighters who have survived and are looking to return to their homes have been more difficult to gauge. So too have the true intentions of men who had allied themselves to the world’s most feared terror group during its ascendancy, but claim no further part of it as its reach and influence dwindles.

French officials have said privately that they would rather that nationals who traveled to join ISIS died on battlefields and have no plans to support those who now want to return. Other European states have expressed similar sentiments.

ISIS defectors had at one point been of high interest to intelligence agencies who had made little ground in penetrating the group as it consolidated a hold on swaths of Syria and Iraq and plotted attacks in Europe and beyond.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight

As the group has capitulated, MI6, the CIA, and France’s DGSE have had increasing access to informants whom they have met within Kurdish controlled areas of Syria’s northeast and in northern Iraq. The increased access to informants with real-time information has left those who fled earlier with less leverage over governments who might otherwise have agreed to talk with them.

“It’s a lot better than it used to be,” said one intelligence official. “We have a more complete picture than we did.”

Abu Saad said he would not return to Saudi Arabia if doing so meant a prison sentence. “A rehabilitation program? Maybe,” he said. “I went to Syria some time in 2012. I went to support the Syrian people and in the first few months I was with the Muhajirin.”

“It wasn’t until early the next year that my unit swore allegiance to ISIS. It was a poisoned flower. It wasn’t what I expected.”

As the group’s fate worsened, tensions increased within its ranks, Abu Saad claimed. Summary executions were carried out on increasingly flimsy pretexts, such as insubordination, or making contact with Syrian opposition groups, he said. Over time, arguments about the ideology and theology also intensified.

Two US Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan firefight
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“They don’t understand the Tawheed (the oneness of God). They are always arguing about it. I saw no justice with them. I saw cruelty. But how could I disagree? It had such a hierarchy. Everyone has a boss who they are afraid of. And above them all was [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.] He was the ultimate authority and no one could argue with him about religious law. If you tried to defy them about anything, you put yourself in danger.”

“My job was to inspect prisons. If there were abuses then I would report on them. One time in Minbij, there was a lady in a cell for 13 days with no toilet and no water for cleaning. She was there because she threatened to kill a man who had killed her husband. There was worse than that though. There were people in prison who had done nothing wrong at all.

“In Idlib, there are around 300 people trying to escape. Many of them are Saudis. Some want to see their families one last time and they say they will accept what’s coming to them. I don’t know any of them who believe in the [Islamic] State. They all ran away for a reason.”

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