For almost two decades, drone strikes have been the hassle-free, war crime tolerant way to sever the heads of any kind of terror cells operating against the United States in the war on terror. There’s just one big problem with that: Hellfire missiles make a big boom, and when that boom is misplaced, a lot of people die – innocent people. And that just creates more terrorists. Lockheed-Martin has finally created a weapon designed to minimize civilian casualties while taking out the bad guys with pinpoint accuracy.
Actually, knife-point accuracy.
Imagine this hellfire missile, but instead of explosives, it’s filled with pop-out blades.
The Hellfire missile is a staple of drones, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft throughout the U.S. military arsenal. The laser-guided, tank-busting workhorse is great for use on a conventional battlefield but not so great when used for surgical strikes.
The term “surgical strike” gets a whole new meaning with the Hellfire R9X projectile, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, has no explosives, but rather it drops 100 pounds of metal blades into a target, which includes long blades that deploy from the missile’s body right before impact. The shards hit with such force that they cut through concrete and sheet metal.
A U.S. airstrike using a Hellfire RX9 to kill al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu Khayr al-Masri in Syria in 2017. Above is the result of the surgical strike.
(New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness)
Also called “The Flying Ginsu” by the people who developed the missile, they say it’s the equivalent of dropping an anvil on a terrorist’s head, minimizing the damage to people and property in the vicinity of the weapon’s detonation. Since the weapon has no explosive effect, it is also sometimes referred to as “the ninja bomb.”
So far, the weapon has only been deployed around a half-dozen times, in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. It was the weapon of choice to kill a number of al-Qaeda operatives, including Jamal al-Badawi, the bomber behind the USS Cole attack in 2000 and it was the back-up plan to kill Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan compound.
There aren’t many ranks throughout the U.S. Armed Forces that have a lateral promotion between two separate ranks at the same pay grade. The difference between Master Sergeants and First Sergeants is nearly the same as Sergeants Major and Command Sergeants Major. One is a command position and the other enjoys their life isn’t.
And then there is the anomaly that only exists within the Army’s E-4 pay grade system: having both a non-commissioned officer rank, Corporal, and the senior lower enlisted rank, Specialist.
Originally, the U.S. Army rank went from Private First Class directly into the leadership position of a Corporal — similar to the way it works in the Marine Corps. They would take their first steps into the wider world of leadership. In the past (and still to this day), they serve more as assistant leaders to their Sergeant, generally as an assistant squad leader or fire-team leader.
Today, Corporals are often rare in the U.S. Army outside of combat arms units. While a Corporal is by all definitions an NCO, they aren’t often privy to the niceties of Sergeants and above. It’s very common to hear phrases like: “We need all E-4’s and below for this duty” — that includes the Corporal. The other side of the coin is when an ass chewing comes down on the NCOs of a unit: “We need all NCOs in the training room, now” — that, too, includes the Corporal.
A specialist exists as a mid-century relic where a separate rank system was established to differentiate someone who was a “Specialist” in their MOS but not necessarily an NCO. This would mostly apply to, for example, a member of the Army band member outside of D.C or West Point. From 1959 to 1968, this went up from E-4 (Spec/4) to E-9 (Spec/9) but it slowly tapered off until 1985 when it became just an E-4 rank.
This is more or less the concept of the modern Specialist. The idea is that a Specialist would focus on their MOS instead of leading troops. In practice, a specialist is given the responsibilities of being a buffer zone between Privates and Sergeants. In execution, they often shrug off physical duties to the lower ranks and any leadership duties to the higher ranks. This is called the “sham shield of the E-4 Mafia.”
A Specialist is definitely the easier rank. Think of a big fish in a little pond versus the little fish in the big pond. The Privates are required to show respect to their senior ranks, so they treat both the Specialist and the Corporal as a higher-up. But often times the Senior Enlisted ignore Specialists but toss things like paperwork onto the Corporal. Sergeants tend to treat Specialists with more leniency. If they mess up something small, it’s fine. If a Corporal messes up at all, they get an ass chewing like the big kids.
But there is a positive note for the Corporal that comes with having more responsibility. While it isn’t necessary for a Specialist to become a Corporal to move on to Sergeant, a Corporal rank shows that the soldier is ready for more responsibility and will show that the soldier is far more responsible when it comes to picking positive things like when a slot for an awesome school opens up.
The Corporal will more than likely get in before the Specialist.
The United States dropped more than seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1957 and 1975, more than twice what it dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II. That’s a lot of ordnance. This doesn’t take into account the rockets, mortars, tank rounds, etc. used by American and allied infantrymen on the ground in Vietnam. An estimated ten percent or more of that tonnage didn’t explode – which means it’s still there.
It also means someone, now nearly 50 years later, is going to find it – a mother, father, or child. That’s where Chuck Searcy, a U.S. Army veteran, comes in. He’s on a mission to clear those UXOs.
Chuck Searcy is a Georgia-based Army vet on a new mission.
Searcy co-founded Project RENEW in 2001, a million effort to clear unexploded weapons from the former war zone while teaching children about the bombs and helping those affected by them.
Since the war’s official end in 1975 – when North Vietnam invaded and forcibly unified the South – more than 100,000 Vietnamese civilians have been killed by unexploded ordnance in the country. Some of them were farmers or other kinds of laborers, clearing paths through fields as they’ve done time and time again. Others injured by the bombs were metal scrappers, gathering what they could to make extra money.
Ten percent is a lot of explosive still sitting around.
In 2017, Searcy and Project RENEW cleared some 17,000 munitions found in the middle of Vietnam. Over the project’s lifetime, the group has cleared more than a million. Searcy first returned to Vietnam in 1995, the year after the United States formally normalized relations with the still-Communist country. Back then, he was helping kids find orthopedic devices for missing limbs, but he kept reading about the problems with explosives in the countryside.
Now they do. When someone finds a bomb and reports it, the group will send out a team to dispose of it as they always have. But in the last 20 years, they’ve become more proactive, more methodical. They not only interview villagers asking about bomb sightings, they examine U.S. Air Force databases, reviewing every single bombing run of the war.
Chuck Searcy now and in his Vietnam-era years.
While often times, the difference can be difficult to measure, there is one important number to follow, and that is how many people were killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in a given area. In Quang Tri, a province that saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, the number killed or wounded in 2001 (when project RENEW began its education program) was 89. In 2017, the number dwindled to two.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is pushing ahead with its ambitious plan to build a modern, capable “blue-water navy” that will dominate China’s neighbors, showcase Beijing’s rising power and one day even threaten the US Navy.
China has one aircraft carrier in operation, another undergoing sea trials, and a third one in development, putting the Chinese navy on track to begin fielding carrier task forces as it gains experience with carrier operations.
Type 001 Liaoning
China’s Type 001 Liaoning, a refitted Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,” is the sister ship of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. This vessel was officially commissioned into the PLAN in 2012, and it was declared combat ready in 2016, even though its primary purpose is to serve as a training platform.
“For what the Liaoning is, I think it’s pretty good at its job,” Matthew Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, previously explained to Business Insider.
Aircraft Carrier Liaoning CV-16 at Hong Kong Waters.
The Chinese “purchased it, they reverse engineered it, they used it to design their second aircraft carrier, and now they are using it as a training vessel to sort out carrier operations, figure out how to integrate it into the fleet, and determine what kind of supporting vessels they need to put with the carrier for their mission,” he added, suggesting that training with the Liaoning could potentially inform future carrier task force decisions, among other important choices.
Type 001A and Type 002
The Type 001A, a domestically-produced version of the Liaoning undergoing sea trials, features some improvements over its predecessor, but it is the Type 002, the third carrier in development, that could be a “huge step forward” for the Chinese PLAN, according to Funaiole.
It is with these next two carriers that the world may start to see China push ahead with the next stage of carrier operations, specifically task force creation for joint operations.
Imagining future Chinese carrier battle groups
The Liaoning has set sail with a number of different escorts over the years, but the deployment of effective task forces will require a bit more time, experts argue.
“To create really meaningful carrier task groups is probably five years out, and a lot of it depends on their actual experience with combat aircraft,” Tony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, told BI.
Chinese carriers lack the ability to go toe-to-toe with the US Navy, although they have an advantage in waters near China because Chinese ballistic missiles “can reach out almost to the limits of its claims and actually potentially hit a carrier-sized object with a conventional warhead,” he explained, adding that observers should not “make the assumption that to make the carriers useful, they have to reach a level of competition that could deal with a really sophisticated US threat.”
The primary task for Chinese carriers is the prestige mission, experts note, suggesting that the Chinese aim to send a message to their neighbors.
“The prestige mission is probably the most important one. They are going to be going out to show the flag,” Bryan Clark, a naval expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Business Insider.
Areas where Chinese carriers could matter most
There are several areas of potential interest, with two being the contested waterways around China and the Indian Ocean.
In local waterways, such as the East and South China Seas, Chinese carriers advance Chinese interests by simply serving as displays of military might. “When it comes to projecting power against smaller states, it’s often a matter of demonstrative action or influence,” Cordesman explained.
Countries in the region may soon find themselves “dealing with a China that can actually project carrier forces and air power now into areas that they’ve never been able to really project air power before.” With that capability, which can be achieved relatively quickly, China can make “a very real difference in regional power and influence.”
But China could also extend its reach beyond its immediate neighborhood. Clark expects to see China eventually deploy carrier task forces to the Indian Ocean given Beijing’s growing interest in the area.
“Within the South and East China Sea, they have lots of land-based systems, aircraft, and ships they can deploy out there under the cover of their shore-based air defenses and surface missiles,” he remarked, “They need the navy to go over and help protect Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean and along the littorals.”
China could, for instance, be looking at projecting military power in the Strait of Malacca and along East Africa from Djibouti down to Mozambique and Madagascar, where China has notable business interests. China has already, via legitimate and questionable means, developed a string of ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, and Pakistan to support such operations.
Type and number of ships in a carrier task force
“I imagine a Chinese CTF may be a Type 055, a Type 054, and then maybe three or four Luyangs because they want to make sure they’ve got a lot of air defense capacity and because they want to make it look like a formidable threat,” Clark explained, referring to China’s new cruiser, as well as the country’s capable frigates and destroyers.
“This includes, in some ways, the classic mix that we would use,” Cordesman told BI.
A typical US Navy carrier strike group includes the carrier and five ships — one cruiser and four destroyers. But China might deploy even greater numbers.
“It’s likely they are going to want to have more surface combatants than even we might have put with a ship,” Clark said, pointing to the need for increased air defense capacity due to the limited number of vertical launch system (VLS) cells on Chinese surface ships, which can be loaded with missiles to intercept incoming threats and to strike ships.
A Chinese carrier task force would also require support ships, like ammunition oilers, for certain deployments.
Type 054A frigate 575 Yueyang.
Type 054/A Jiangkai I/II frigates
The 4,000-ton Type 054A warships, Chinese stealth frigates designed for fleet defense, are armed with HQ-16 medium-range air defense missiles and a 32-cell VLS in the forward section that is able to fire anti-ship missiles, air defense missiles, and anti-submarine torpedoes, according to The Diplomat.
The first Type 054A was commissioned into the PLAN in 2005, but China has made some modifications to the ship in recent years. For instance, some of the newer ships of this class feature variable depth sonar and towed array sonar, as well as an improved close-in weapon system.
China is reportedly in the process of developing a 5,000-ton variant, the Type 054B Jiangkai III-class frigate.
Type 052C/D Luyang II/III destroyers
These ships, especially the newer Type 052D, are said to be similar to the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers.
Commonly referred to as the “Chinese Aegis,” the Type 052D destroyers feature a 64-cell VLS, with each cell capable of carrying up to four missiles, including the lethal YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile and the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile. A US destroyer, in comparison, can carry 90 or more missiles in its VLS.
Toward the end of September 2018, a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer challenged a US destroyer, the USS Decatur, to a showdown in the South China Sea during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation. The Chinese vessel is said to have nearly collided with the American warship.
Type 055 Renhai-class cruisers
While China designates these vessels as destroyers, the US classifies them as cruisers, due to their large size and role as multi-mission surface combatants. This ship is expected to serve a similar purpose to that of America’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers.
This ship, which began sea trials in August 2018, is armed with 112 vertical launch cells with the ability to fire HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, and CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles.
The main gun is a H/PJ-38 130 mm gun, but there are reports that this vessel could eventually be equipped with a railgun.
Type 056 Jingdao corvettes
Chinese corvettes, like the newer PLAN frigates, feature improved anti-submarine warfare capabilities that could be advantageous to the carrier task force, although it’s unclear if China would actually incorporate these ships into a future carrier group, especially considering that the Type 054 frigates can provide the same capabilities.
“What the frigates and the corvettes have are variable-depth sonars, an active sonar operating at a lower frequency and on a cable that can be lowered down into the water below the [sonic] layer to actually find submarines,” Clark explained. “I think the Chinese would deploy a Jiangkai frigate or [Type 056] Jingdao corvette with the task force primarily for [anti-submarine warfare].”
These ships would play a lesser role in air defense, focusing instead on defending the task force from threats lurking beneath the surface of the sea.
Chinese Navy oiler Hongzehu (AOR 881), an older vessel. China has since developed fast combat support ships for ammunition and refueling.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ben A. Gonzales)
Additional naval and support vessels
In waters near China, the need for support ships is limited. China can rely on its commercial shipping fleet, as well as various outposts and ports, but at greater distances, the task force will require support ships.
“I would anticipate the carrier task force is going to include an oiler to support them, and that oiler would be what goes ashore in these different bases along the Indian Ocean to receive supplies and fuel and take that out to the carrier task force,” Clark told Business Insider.
“Normally, when the Chinese deploy, such as when they deployed destroyers and frigates for counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, they’ve generally deployed two combatant ships and a support ship. They always have an oiler that goes with these ships.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force has ordered a stop to all MV-22 Osprey flight operations in Japan until safety procedures can be reviewed after one of the tiltrotor aircraft was forced to make an emergency shallow-water landing off the coast of Okinawa on Tuesday.
In a press conference in Okinawa following the incident, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson said the aircraft had been conducting aerial refueling operations over water when the rotor blades hit the refueling line, causing damage to the aircraft.
“After the aircraft was unhooking, it was shaking violently,” Nicholson said, according to a III MEF news release. “The pilot made a decision to not fly over Okinawan homes and families. He made a conscious decision to try to reach Camp Schwab … and land in the shallow water to protect his crew and the people of Okinawa.”
All five Marine crew members aboard the Osprey were rescued from the aircraft and taken to the naval hospital at Camp Foster for treatment following the crash. According to the release, three have been released, and two remain under observation. Their current condition was not described.
III MEF officials said a salvage survey is being conducted to determine how best to recover the damaged Osprey safely, while protecting the environment. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
During the press conference, Nicholson thanked the Japan Coast Guard and the Okinawan police for their assistance in responding to the crash.
“I regret that this incident took place,” Nicholson said. “We are thankful for all the thoughts and prayers the people of Okinawa gave to our injured crew.”
The Marines’ use of the Osprey on Okinawa has long been a point of contention among residents, many of whom fear that the aircraft might be especially prone to crashes given its history of deadly incidents in its early days. When additional Ospreys arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 2012, locals held protests to oppose the move.
This is the second time in four months that Nicholson has ordered an operational pause for aircraft in Japan. In September, he ordered AV-8B Harriers in the region to temporarily halt operations after one of the aircraft crashed off of Okinawa.
Psychological operations is known mostly for their leaflets and posters designed to demoralize the enemy or convince local populations to stay away from combat areas. But sometimes, those troops go full “spook” and complete crazy missions — like when they became vampires and ghosts to scare America’s enemies.
The vampire mission was led by Lt. Col. Edward G. Lansdale. He was sent to the Philippines in September 1950 to help dislodge Communist rebels in the area. The rebels, known as Huks, were known to be superstitious so Lansdale had his men study their local legends.
After an early mission to convince locals they would be cursed if they supported the communists helped force the surrender of some Huk units, Lansdale knew he was in business. He then turned his attention to a local vampire legend, the “asuang.”
Lansdale and his men circulated a rumor in a village that an asuang vampire lived in the hills nearby. They waited for the rumor to make its way up the hill, and then swooped into action. A covert team snuck into the hills and waited for a patrol. When it was nearly past them, they snatched up the last man, poked two holes in his neck, and drained him of his blood. Seriously.
They then put the body back on the trail. When the Huks found it, they believed the rumors of the asuang and fled from the area, allowing government forces to take the region.
Soldiers tried a similar trick in Vietnam by capitalizing on the belief that the souls of dead people not buried are forced to wander the world. Soldiers made a series of “Ghost Tapes” that were commonly called “Wandering Soul.”
The audio tapes began with Buddhist funeral music followed by a girl’s cries for her father. A wandering ghost then responds, crying with regret that he chose to die on a far off battlefield rather than staying with his family.
Soldiers with backpacks, ships, and aircraft all broadcasted the message at different times. There is little evidence that anyone believed they were hearing actual ghosts and the tapes seemed to have mixed effects.
While there were reports of Communist forces surrendering or deserting after hearing the tapes, sailors and soldiers who broadcast the messages reported coming under increased fire when they started playing the tapes.
Friendly forces used this hatred to their advantage. After a C-47 came under extreme fire while broadcasting the tape, the commanding officer of the plane swore he’d never play it again. He was sent back the next night to play it anyway, but this time with an AC-130 flying in support, targeting everything that fired at the C-47. One of the more widely known versions of the tape, “Ghost Tape Number 10,” can be heard here.
A major Islamic State group counterattack July 7 along the northern edge of Mosul’s Old City neighborhood has pushed Iraqi Army forces back some 75 meters (82 yards) and is threatening recent gains in other Old City fronts, an Iraqi military officer said.
The officer said the attack was launched just after noon July 7 and estimated it was carried out by 50 to 100 IS fighters. A doctor at a medic station said he received more than a dozen wounded Iraqi soldiers.
Both men spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Iraqi security forces have retaken almost all of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — from IS militants who overran it in 2014.
In late June, IS counterattacks on the western edge of Mosul — neighborhoods retaken months earlier — stalled the push by Iraqi forces to go deeper into the Old City as they forced a reallocation of Iraqi ground forces, coalition surveillance, and air support.
Unlike the July 7 attack, the late June counterattack was launched from outside Mosul, most likely from Tal Afar, an IS-held town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Mosul.
The counterattacks underscore the extremist group’s resilience in Iraq, despite significant territorial losses and months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by US air power.
The pockets of IS-held Mosul now measure less than a square kilometer.
Also on July 7, The UN’s migration agency suspended operations in two camps — the Qayara air strip emergency site and the Haj Ali camp — near Mosul hosting nearly 80,000 displaced Iraqis due to sporadic violence and exchange of gunfire.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the security situation prevented six water-tanker trucks from entering the Haj Ali camp, where temperatures reached the low 50s Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in recent days.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly suspended operations in and around Mosul due to security concerns since the fight to retake the city from IS began last October.
In April, the United Nations suspended operations in the same area due to security threats along the road south of Mosul’s western half.
In February, the UN suspended operations in eastern Mosul weeks after the area was declared fully liberated as IS attacks continued to inflict heavy civilian casualties.
In both instances, the UN resumed operations within a matter of days.
This year, at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, CA, game developers came out strong, teasing plenty of long-awaited games and announcing a couple of awesome surprises. We got updates on titles we’ve been waiting for, like Spider-Man, and a glimpse at a few we’ve been dreaming of, like The Elder Scrolls VI.
Here are ten games on display at E3 2018 that we can’t wait to get our hands on.
Gears 5 (Microsoft)
Gears of War has always been about pure, unadulterated violence. There was a legitimate story in the first three, but nobody could really take their eyes off of the chainsaw bayonets ripping through Locus faces.
Gears of War 4 took a step in the right direction when the protagonist role hopped from the admittedly bad-ass Marcus Fenix to his son, JD. It kept the awesome and added just the right amount of story. Gears 5 seems like it’s going to continue that trend.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo)
Nintendo didn’t really come out with a huge lineup of (new) games for the Switch. To be fair, the newest Smash Bros game doesn’t look like much of a departure from previous installments.
But finally being able to pit Solid Snake against Cloud against Pikachu against Ridley? Okay. We’re hooked. Just take our money already.
Jump Force (Bandai)
All those years of reading Shonen Jump back in high school are about to finally pay off. In the early trailers, we’ve already seen Goku, Naruto, Luffy, and Light make an appearance, but it’s obvious that other great Shonen Jump characters will also make an appearance. Keep an eye out for familiar faces from Bleach, Rurouni Kenshin, Fist of the North Star, Dragon Quest, and many more.
Halo Infinite (Microsoft)
Halo 5 was good, but it felt like it had strayed a bit too far from the franchise that we all know and love. Halo Infinite seems like it’s going to fix all those problems by giving us a healthy bit of nostalgia and a breathtaking new engine.
Not much is known yet about this one, but just the fact that we’re going back to the Halos (from which the series gets its name) in the helmet of Master Chief is enough to win me back over.
Kingdom Hearts 3 (Square Enix)
It’s been 13 years since Kingdom Hearts II came out and side stories just aren’t going to cut it anymore. In the time fans have waited for a resolution to the trilogy, Disney has acquired Pixar, Lucasfilms, Marvel, and (soon) Fox.
The wait may finally pay off for die-hard fans or it’ll just be another Duke Nukem Forever.
There’s just a certain level of satisfaction unique to playing a Hitman game.
Hitman games have always prided themselves on requiring an insane level of detail from players in order to successfully (and quietly) take out their target. There are so many variables on each assignment that it feels like you’ve got a one-in-a-million chance to make things line up just right. But when they do….
Fallout 76 (Bethesda)
I know we’ve been hyping up Fallout 76 pretty heavily, but who isn’t excited to get their hands on this game?
Bethesda has always delivered games built on the premise that video games should always be ridiculously fun. Dropping a nuke on your friends seems fits that bill perfectly.
Devil May Cry 5 (Capcom)
Everyone in the gaming world is running around crying about how hard Dark Souls is like they’ve never played Devil May Cry on the “Dante Must Die” setting.
We’ll admit that the last installment, DMC, wasn’t that great — but it wasn’t as awful as everyone made it out to be. That being said, the series just isn’t the same without the old Dante. Well, he’s back, and the newest game looks amazing.
Insurgency: Sandstorm (New World Interactive)
Do you know refreshing it is to finally see a true-to-life take on the Global War on Terror? No blinged-out weapons that only a third-world dictator would have. No modded-out gear that only a fobbit would buy.
This is a no-nonsense action game that originated as a realistic Half-Life 2 mod. You better believe we’re going to be following this game closely.
Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Projekt)
The best game of this year’s E3 has got to be Cyberpunk 2077. Hands down.
It just has too many perfect things going for it. The guy who made Cyberpunk 2020, Mike Pondsmith, is going to be working with the guys who made The Witcher series to create an experience that takes players into the hardcore underworld of the future. Oh, f*ck yes!
“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”
These words constitute the Spartan Pledge, a solemn oath meant to reverse the disturbing trend of suicide among veterans of the U.S. military and active duty personnel.
According the 2018 Annual Suicide Report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, 541 service members died by suicide in 2018, including 325 active duty troops. The data collected for this report show the suicide rate is 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 18.7 in 2013. These 2018 numbers represent a six-year high.
Similarly, the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is bleak as well: 6,139 U.S. veterans took their own lives in 2017 — 16.8 per day, up from 5.9 in 2005. This rate is one and a half times that of the general (non-veteran) population.
Boone Cutler on deployment when he was a member of the U.S. Army.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler’s Facebook page.)
In 2010, retired U.S. Army paratrooper Boone Cutler decided it was time to do something about these tragic statistics. Cutler came from a family with a long-standing tradition of military service. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II. “My grandpa was actually the longest held POW in World War II,” Cutler said. “We take a lot of pride in that and give him a lot of respect. He was captured the day after the Pearl Harbor attack and was held from December 8 until the end of the war.”
Cutler was inspired to join the Army after learning about the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. “I remember the headline,” he said. “The 82nd Airborne Division had just jumped into Panama. I left home at 17 and joined the Army Airborne Infantry when I was 18. He later reclassed his military occupational specialty (MOS) and joined the psychological operations (PSYOP) community. Cutler deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005 as a PSYOP Team Sergeant. Serious orthopedic and traumatic brain injuries sent him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years. While there, doctors told him he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis he had no intention of accepting at the time.
The years that followed were difficult. Cutler was on several prescription drugs, and he grappled with violent outbursts and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, he was shocked to learn that he wasn’t alone. In a conversation with his closest “battle buddy” from Iraq, Cutler asked his friend if he’d ever considered suicide. “Every day,” his buddy answered.
Holy fuck, thought Cutler. How could guys be so close on active duty — literally covering each others’ backs in a kinetic environment, know everything about each other, every hiccup, every burp, every fart … literally everything … and we don’t know this about each other after we come home?
Shortly thereafter, he called another friend who had been on his team. He discovered that teammate was struggling, too. He had been contemplating taking his own life and hadn’t left his home in two years. This was the genesis of the Spartan Pledge — a battle drill that, in Cutler’s words, helps warfighters “know what to do when they don’t know what to do.”
“We made an agreement,” Cutler said. “We knew we couldn’t actually stop each other from killing ourselves, but it was kind of a respect thing — if you’re going to do that, I can’t stop you. But don’t leave me spinning around on this planet for the rest of my life, wondering what happened and if there was something I could have done. Now [the pledge] is two sentences, but it literally started out as, ‘Motherfucker, you’d better call me.'”
Around this same time, Cutler learned about GallantFew, a then-new organization with a mission to help veterans in transition. GallantFew executive director Karl Monger soon became a close friend and mentor to Cutler. While talking on the phone, the topic of veteran suicide came up, and Cutler mentioned how he and his buddies were dealing with it. Monger stopped him mid-sentence. “Boone,” he said. “I think you’ve really got something there. This is something we should promote.” GallantFew began to introduce the pledge through its network, during one-on-one meetings with veterans in crisis. From there, it took root around the country and continued to grow organically.
A 2017 video, aptly titled “The Spartan Pledge,” featured commentary by Cutler and conversations with others who were inspired to “pay the pledge forward” in unique ways. Army veteran and Redcon-1 music artist Soldier Hard shared his idea to incorporate the pledge into his concerts. “Every warfighter knows about taking an oath,” he said. “We take oaths very seriously. Why not invite warfighters in the audience to come up on stage and take the Spartan Pledge?”
The video also featured U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince, who told Cutler he wanted to honor the victims of 9/11 — those who died in the attacks, as well as our fallen military in the Global War on Terrorism. Prince had collected some steel from the World Trade Center wreckage. He and former U.S. Marine and commercial airline pilot Steve “Luker” Danyluk proposed to forge that steel into a commemorative sword. Two months later, the project was complete.
U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince used steel collected from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to forge this commemorative sword.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“Every warfighter who joined in this current era is there because of what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11,” Cutler said. “So we’ve come full circle now by creating a sword out of that tragic event that inspires people to live. That’s humbling. That’s something that touches your heart. When people touch that sword, it’s like connecting with all the souls that were lost.”
In 2011, Cutler launched a weekly talk radio show in the Reno, Nevada, area, called “Tipping Point with Boone Cutler,” which served as a platform for the former paratrooper’s raw, no-holds-barred style. That show aired through 2016. These days, Cutler spends his time spreading the word about the Spartan Pledge and connecting with his brothers and sisters in arms, both active duty and retired. “We’ve built a solid network from all walks of life,” he said. “We put our differences aside to save lives. It’s an amazing unifier.”
Cutler was a featured guest at the 2019 VetXpo conference in Dallas in October, which was sponsored by the GallantFew. His presentation, one of the many highlights of the weekend, was a spot-on snapshot of the state of the veteran community, the civilian world’s perception of warfighters, and why warfighters have such a challenging time with transition.
A dog tag stamped with the Spartan Pledge.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
He shared his observation that, after Vietnam, Hollywood and the media habitually portrayed warfighters as “crazy vets.” As late as 2010, nearly half of all human resources managers said it was “difficult to hire” veterans due to PTSD — but they didn’t have a real understanding of PTSD. Cutler concluded that it was “PTSD phobia” that made it difficult to hire veterans, not PTSD itself. If PTSD was truly the problem, he continued, a woman who was raped or a person who lived through a natural disaster or a car wreck would also be difficult to hire. Yet, strangely, that did not seem to be the case — only veterans with PTSD posed this difficulty. Fortunately, due to advancements in mental health and organizations like GallantFew, the civilian population is beginning to understand PTSD, those affected by PTSD are talking about it more openly, and the associated phobias are fading.
As critical as he was of the civilian population, Cutler made it a point to hold his fellow warfighters accountable, too. He acknowledged that the transition to the civilian world is difficult, calling it a “different set of rules.” In the military, it is understood that everything can change and adjustments must be made. “If we’ve adjusted to those environments,” Cutler challenged the audience, “why are we so stubborn to adjust to this one?”
His answer was startlingly simple: At a time when most young people are learning to become independent — starting families, getting careers and making their own decisions — those who join the military are entering an authoritarian environment, in which they rely upon someone else, a squad leader, to tell them what to do and when to do it. The upshot? Warfighters have to develop their own “inner squad leader.”
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“My squad leader talks to me all the time,” he admitted. “I’m gonna do some stupid shit. BAM! Squad leader talks to me: ‘Don’t do that.’ Every one of us needs to build that squad leader [into your brain] who tells you what to do. You’re not doing your PT? Squad leader ought to have a knee up your ass pretty quick!” As you can imagine, Cutler’s presentation was peppered by frequent, self-deprecating laughter.
However, the humorous tone quickly turned somber when he invited Annette, a Gold Star mother, to join him at the front of the room. Cutler shared Annette’s story with the audience, recounting how her son had tragically ended his own life after transitioning out of the military. He then asked everyone to come forward, circle around, and lay hands on Annette while he led the group in the Spartan Pledge.
“I authored it,” he said later about the pledge, “but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s important to me that your readers know [the Spartan Pledge] is hallowed ground. There’s a fiefdom everywhere in our community these days, so I don’t want to attach my personality to this thing. To be clear, I legally own it, but that’s just to make sure no one pulls any bullshit.”
The Spartan Pledge has been featured on a NASCAR vehicle, inked on the bodies of warfighters, and incorporated into special ceremonies across the country. In the final minutes of Cutler’s 2017 Spartan Pledge video, he said that people frequently ask what he plans to do with it next.
“I’m just the author,” he said, laughing. “I’m not doing anything with the Spartan Pledge because it belongs to the community. The question is: What are you going to do with it?”
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
Iran has decided it wants to join the aircraft carrier club, with Tehran’s Deputy Navy Commander for Coordination making a statement to Iran’s Fars News Agency.
According to a report by the Times of Israel, Adm. Peiman Jafari Tehrani reportedly said, “Building an aircraft carrier is also among the goals pursued by the navy and we hope to attain this objective.”
Currently, the United States, India, China, Russia, Brazil, and France operate conventional aircraft carriers. Spain, Japan, Italy, and Thailand operate aircraft carriers for short take-off, vertical landing aircraft — with the United Kingdom in the midst of building two. India also operates an old V/STOL carrier.
Iran has a substantial domestic arms industry and has built its own warships, including the Peykan-class missile boats and the Jamaran-class frigates.
Iran also claims to have deployed the Bavar 373, a knock-off of the SA-10 anti-aircraft missile, and to have copied the RQ-170, an example of which was captured in 2011. Iran also has built modified versions of the Northrop F-5, known as the Saeqeh.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the Iranian navy to look into constructing nuclear-powered military vessels, according to a report by the Daily Caller. Currently, only the United States, India, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France have such vessels in service.
2016 was notable for a number of incidents where Iranian forces harassed or threatened United States Navy personnel.
If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?
To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.
So how did the tradition actually start?
While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.
Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.
Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.
Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.
Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.
As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.
This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.
On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.
Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.
Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,
Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.
On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”
Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)
On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”
That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”
History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”
As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.
When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.
This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.
As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”
That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .
Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.
Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.
For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.
On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.
That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.
Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”
Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.
This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.
As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.
Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.
As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.
On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).
To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…
In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.
What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”
Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.
That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.
In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.
In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.
Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.
Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.
A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?
This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.
My mind was spinning.
What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?
Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.
The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”
“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”
“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”
“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”
Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.
My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.
I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.
My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.
They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.
Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
This is a far cry from the current Air Force brass’ ringing endorsement of the “game-changing” aircraft. But with the aircraft costing about $100 million each, and with the highest price tag ever associated with developing a weapons system, perhaps Yeager thinks the money would be better spent on training pilots and maintaining a more traditional Air Force.
So I thought to ask him what he thought about restarting the F-22, the world’s first fifth-generation aircraft. While the F-22 costs are also very high, it functions a bit more like a traditional fighter jet than the multirole F-35, which I thought maybe Yeager would appreciate. So what did he think?
So there you have it. According to perhaps the greatest living military pilot, the entire fifth generation of US Air Force jets are a waste of money.