On March 22, 2019, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa (WMEC-902) offloaded approximately 27,000 pounds of cocaine at Base Miami Beach worth an estimated $360 million wholesale seized in international waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The drugs were interdicted off the coasts of Mexico, Central, and South America and represent 12 separate, suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions by the U.S. Coast Guard:
The Coast Guard Cutter Dependable (WMEC-626) was responsible for two cases, seizing an estimated 2,926 pounds of cocaine.
The Coast Guard Cutter Tampa (WMEC-902) was responsible for six cases, seizing an estimated 18,239 pounds of cocaine.
The Coast Guard Cutter Venturous (WMEC-625) was responsible for four cases, seizing an estimated 7,218 pounds of cocaine.
“Tampa’s crew is extremely proud of the work they accomplished over the past three months. There are few things more frustrating to our sailors than idle deployments, and none more gratifying than accomplishing a very important mission with impacts that resound across our Nation. For many of the crew, this will be their last deployment on Tampa, and it’s one they will always remember.” said Cmdr. Nicholas Simmons, commanding officer of the Tampa.
The Coast Guard increased U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy. During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by allied, military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the actual boarding, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guardsmen. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 11th District headquartered in Alameda, California.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Mason R. Cram wraps a palette of cocaine in preparation for a drug offload March 22, 2019, at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach.
(Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray)
The cutter Tampa is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Virginia. The cutter Venturous is a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in St. Petersburg, Florida. The cutter Dependable is a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Virginia Beach, Virginia. LEDET 107 is permanently assigned to the Pacific Area Tactical Law Enforcement Team in San Diego, California.
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Daniel Abel speaks to the press about the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa (WMEC-902) crew’s drug smuggling interdictions and offload, March 22, 2019, at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach.
(Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray)
Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are involved in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with allied and international partner agencies play a role in counter-drug operations. The cutter Tampa even participated in the first joint boarding in recent memory between the United States and Ecuador. The fight against transnational organized crime networks in the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Basin requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring, and interdictions, to prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys in Florida, California, New York, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.
The Navy Credentials Program Office (CPO) completed its latest brief on the Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) program at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, April 18, 2019.
Navy COOL provides active duty and reserve sailors, whether forward-deployed, underway or ashore, with a way to map their Navy education, training, experience, and competencies to civilian credentials and occupations.
“The Navy COOL program reflects the Navy’s ongoing commitment to sailors and civilians in providing world class training, experience, and opportunities that will serve them well on active duty, Federal service, and post-service civilian careers,” said Keith Boring, Navy Credentialing, director.
The Navy Region Hawaii Career Information Center hosted the CPO team for this four-day visit. The team visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii K-Bay, Wahiawa NCTAMS, Joint Base Pearl Harbor and for the first time, Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands.
Thom Seith, program analyst, Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program, front-right, speaks with Hawaii-based sailors about Navy credentialing opportunities during a Navy Credentials Program Office visit.
(U.S. Navy photo by David Adkins)
“This was a great opportunity to get the word out about the value of certification and licensure from the subject matter experts,” said Senior Chief Navy Counselor Robert Pagtakhan, Navy Region Hawaii career counselor. “The information presented enhanced Career Development Boards, advancement, and individual personal and professional goals. Discussions also emphasized the importance of the Learning and Development Roadmaps and United Services Military Apprenticeship Program.”
In addition to discussions on the importance of credentialing and licensing during and after a sailor’s Navy career, the CPO team also walked attendees through the Navy COOL website, the voucher submission process and credentialing eligibility requirements.
Upcoming Navy COOL briefing opportunities include:
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
Sure, the Academy Awards have categories like “Best Actor” and “Best Adapted Screenplay,’ and, yes, military movies like “American Sniper” and “The Imitation Game” are in the mix this year. But all of that falls somewhat short of capturing the true military cinematic essence that this year’s crop of films produced. Here are nine categories that the Oscars forgot and the winners in each:
1. Best Misuse Of Government Property By A Leading Man: Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Because Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle was a super badass sniper, he had a phone so that generals and even the president could call him to tell him who he should put the crosshairs on next. What did Cooper’s Kyle use the phone for? To call his wife, usually right before a firefight was about to break out. And once it did he wouldn’t hang up (in order not to alarm her or anything).
2. Best Use of Kristen Stewart’s Bitch Face By An Actress In A Leading Role: Kristen Stewart, “Camp X-Ray”
Kristen Stewart plays a U.S. Army guard at Gitmo who develops a sympathetic relationship – through a prison door – with one of the detainees. But her sympathy is buried under the same expression she’s used in every movie she’s ever been in, that signature bitchy pouty girl face, so it’s hard to tell when she’s sympathetic and when she’s bored or pissed off. But, hey, like B.B. King said, “You can play just one note if it’s the right one.” We say bravo, Ms. Stewart.
3. Best Supporting Actor In A Role About The Fact All Vets Are Doomed: Brad Hawkins, “Boyhood”
Brilliantly filmed over a 12-year period, director Richard Linklater’s gem focuses on the life of a sometimes single mom and her two kids. The mom’s third love interest is a returning vet who’s just back from Iraq. He seems like a nice, well-adjusted guy, but after a while he’s holding down a job as a prison guard and sitting on the front porch guzzling beer and yelling at the son about being a good-for-nothing, which is to say they got it exactly right because that’s what always happens to returning vets.
4. Best Portrayal Of The Perils Of Having Sex In Combat: “Fury”
Brad Pitt’s Sherman tank crew stumble across the home of a war-weary German family with a hot daughter, and they enjoy a bit of normalcy. One of the crew hooks up with the daughter, and once they’re done the crew leaves and minutes later the family’s house gets blown to smithereens by an air strike.
5. Best WTFO? Moment: “300 – Rise of Empires”
In the middle of a kick ass war-at-sea between ancient sailing ships, General Themistocles suddenly produces a horse that he rides all over the deck while slashing and stabbing his foe. But it really gets good when the horse – without any hesitation – gallops through flaming wreckage, leaps into the water, and then jumps onto an enemy ship where Themistocles continues his savaging of the enemy – truly the year’s best WTFO? military movie moment.
6. Most Dramatic Flame-out Of A Military Movie Franchise: “Jarhead 2”
Three words: Straight. To. DVD.
7. Best Actress In A Role About The Joys Of Being A Military Mom: Michelle Monaghan “Ft. Bliss”
Michelle Monaghan plays a single mom soldier who returns home after 15 months in Iraq only to find that her 6-year-old son has forgotten who she is. (What, did the rest of family hide all the pictures of her? And no Skype?) About the point her son starts to warm to her she’s sent back to Iraq because that’s how the Army rolls. If the military wanted you to have a kid they would have issued you one.
8. Most Groundbreaking Guerrilla Warfare Sequence: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
One of the conniving chimps uses cute chimp moves to mollify two humans just long enough to get one of their automatic weapons and blow them away with it.
9. Best Actor In A Role About The Tortured Souls Of Those In The Intelligence Community: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the intel genius who knows a thing or two about code breaking. Cumberbatch’s Turing is at odds with his sexual orientation and anti-social and basically pained by everything in his life – in other words, he’s a lot like most of those in the intel community.
October 2019, US President Donald Trump made the abrupt decision to pull the remaining US troops out of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria.
The move sent the fragmented country into a spiral, disrupting one of its few areas of stability. By withdrawing support from Kurdish forces in the area — which had helped the US combat ISIS — Trump opened them up to an oncoming offensive by Turkey.
Justifying the decision. Trump argued that US forces in the region had already “defeated” ISIS, and that therefore there was no need for them to stay in Syria.
This was, at best, only partly true.
While US-allied forces this year deprived ISIS of the territory it once controlled, the group still has as many as 18,000 fighters quietly stationed across Iraq and Syria, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, Kurdish-led fighters, known as The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had maintained control of tens of thousands of former ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Of those detainees, 11,000 of them are foreign nationals, according to the BBC.
The SDF has said it is holding more than 12,000 men suspected of being ISIS fighters across seven prisons it operates, estimating that more than 4,000 of those prisoners are foreign nationals, the BBC said.
The fate of those prisoners remains uncertain, particularly in the wake of the US pullout.
Turkey has taken over parts of Syria, and with it, ISIS prisoners
On Oct. 22, 2019, Russia and Turkey took advantage of the power vacuum that had been created and signed an agreement to expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory.
As part of the deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards entered the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, pushing Kurdish forces back to 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border.
Turkey says it will use the reclaimed area to create a “buffer zone” along its border and will use the land to resettle more than 1 million Syrian refugees displaced by the war.
But as Turkey gains land in Syria, it has also taken on the task of figuring out what to do with former Islamic State detainees, many of whom are now under its control. Turkey has faced criticism in the past for its porous border, which allowed foreign fighters to enter Syria and join the Islamic State to begin with.
But Turkey doesn’t want to deal with them, and neither does the rest of the world
According to a 2016 report by the World Bank, foreign ISIS fighters have been recruited from “all continents across the globe,” though it named Russia, France, and Germany as the top Western suppliers of ISIS’ foreign workforce.
Data from the Institute for the Study of War also indicated that significant portions of foreign fighters also came from European countries like the UK, Belgium, and France between December 2015 and March 2016.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that about 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters were in Turkish prisons, and warned that Turkey would not become “a hotel” for militants.
On Nov. 11, 2019, Turkey began deporting foreign nationals said to be linked to ISIS back to their home countries.
One of those foreign nationals was from the US, a spokesperson for Turkey’s interior minister said, though according to the BBC the man remained stranded at the Greek border after choosing not to return to the US. On Thursday morning, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said that the man would be brought to the US.
Turkey’s interior minister added the country was planning to deport “several more terrorists back to Germany” this week, and that legal proceedings against two Irish nationals and 11 French citizens captured in Syria were underway. A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that three men, five women and two children were being returned to Germany this week.
But many of those countries have not put a concrete policy in place for what to do with ISIS foreign fighters or their families that remain in displacement camps in Syria, or have refused to allow them to return.
Trump said in his statement in October 2019 that he discussed the issue of repatriating foreign fighters with France, Germany, and other European nations but they “did not want them and refused.”
Foreign nationals abroad are traditionally entitled to consular services abroad, though many European nations have been cautious about offering help to citizens who joined ISIS on national security grounds. Under international law, it is illegal to strip people of their citizenship if it will leave them stateless.
There are concerns that ISIS may take advantage of the uncertainty to regroup
But the UN has stood firm on pushing countries to take responsibility for their citizens.
“It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in June 2019.
“Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards,” she added.
The UK is currently debating what to do about those who left the country to join ISIS. In February 2019, it stripped British-born Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria to become an ISIS bride at the age of 15, of her citizenship, citing national security risks. Begum has appealed the decision, and the UK government is said to be considering options for repatriating British members of ISIS held in prison camps in Syria.
As the West works through the complicated process of absorbing foreign fighters, Islamic State militants in Syria appear to be taking advantage of the chaos.
Last month, the SDF said ISIS fighters committed three suicide bombings on its positions in Raqqa as Kurdish fighters moved from their posts to respond to Turkish assault. And SDF General Mazloum Kobani has warned on Nov. 13, 2019 that the West should “expect” major attacks from Islamic State fighters who may be looking to capitalize on the chaos in order to regroup.
“The danger of the resurgence of ISIS is very big. And it’s a serious danger,” he told Sky News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. Navy may have come across a common sense way to save billions on bombs, according to statements made from U.S. officials at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.
For years now, the Navy has been working on the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network to help detect, track, and intercept targets using a fused network of all types of sensors at the Navy’s disposal.
Essentially, NIFC-CA allows one platform to detect a target, another platform to fire on it, and the original platform to help guide the missile to the target. The system recently integrated with F-35s, allowing an F-35 to guide a missile fired from a land-based version of a navy ship to hitting a target.
Remarks from Cmdr. David Snee, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate, recently revealed that NIFC-CA could also help save the Navy billions on bombs.
“Right now we’re in a world where if I can’t see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself,” Snee told conference attendees, as noted by USNI News.
“But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don’t need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn’t need to have all that information. I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time.”
According to Snee, with an integrated network of sensors allowing the Navy to see beyond the horizon, the costly sensors and guidance systems the U.S. puts on nearly every single bomb dropped could become obsolete.
Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Shirley Shugar, from Joppa, Ala., takes inventory of ordnance in the bomb farm aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch)
In the scenario described by Snee, today’s guided or “smart bombs” could be replaced with bombs that simply receive targeting info from other sensors, like F-35s or E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.
Essentially, the “smart” part of the weapon’s guidance would remain on the ship, plane, or other sensor node that fired them, instead of living on the missile and being destroyed with each blast.
The Navy would have to do extensive testing to make sure the bombs could do their job with minimal sensor technology. But the move could potentially save billions, as the U.S. military dropped at least 26,000 bombs in 2016, the vast majority of which contained expensive sensors.
North Korea’s state-sponsored news agency issued a rare press release on Feb. 12, in which the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was said to have “expressed satisfaction” after the country’s delegation arrived back from a trip to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the propaganda outlet for the regime, claimed that Kim Jong-un said South Korea’s “specially prioritized” efforts to accommodate North Korea’s delegates were “very impressive,” according to a translation from KCNA Watch.
North Korea sent a delegation that included Kim Jong-un’s sister and head of its propaganda department, Kim Yo-jong, and the nominal head of state, Kim Yong-nam, to South Korea ahead of the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
After North Korea agreed in January 2017, it took several steps that, at least on the surface, appeared to be an effort to thaw its relationship with South Korea. The regime sent Kim Yo-jong there, the first time the regime’s ruling family visited the South in decades, as cameras fawned over images of her smiling with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
During this trip, Kim Yo-jong invited Moon to visit North Korea. A potential visit by Moon would be the first meeting of Korean leaders in Pyongyang since then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for an inter-Korean summit in 2007.
North Korea’s recent statement and actions are a stark departure from its usual, bellicose rhetoric, and that has prompted White House officials and foreign-policy experts to be cautious about the overtures.
Vice President Mike Pence, who reportedly floated the possibility of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, said on Feb. 12 that President Donald Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” would continue.
“Despite potential talks, and irrespective of if they happen w/USA or S. Korea, new strong sanctions are coming very soon and the maximum pressure campaign will only intensify until North Korea abandons its nuclear program,” Pence tweeted. “All our allies agree!”
And despite being seen cheering for the joint-Korean Winter Olympics team and having luncheons with the North Korean delegation, Moon — who has been accused of being swayed by North Korea’s “charm offensive” — has given some indication that he remains wary of North Korea’s motives.
Instead of explicitly agreeing to North Korea’s invitation to Pyongyang, Moon responded by suggesting the two countries “accomplish this by creating the right conditions,” and encouraged the North to “actively pursue” talks with the U.S.
Moon is also believed to have signaled his commitment to exerting pressure on North Korea. According to Pence on Feb. 10, “both of us reiterated to each other tonight that we will continue to stand strong and work in a coordinated way to bring maximum economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on North Korea.”
Once America entered World War I some of the first forces it sent to France were those of the newly-formed Air Service. Among those troops was a relatively famous racecar driver and mechanic who would become America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ during the war: Eddie Rickenbacker.
When Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army, he had dreams of flying but was shipped to France as a driver for the General Staff due to his experience as a racecar driver. His advanced age (27 at the time) and lack of a college degree also disqualified him for flight training – but he was undeterred.
Assigned as the driver for Col. William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Rickenbacker took the opportunity to bother him until the Colonel finally allowed him to attend pilot training. Rickenbacker still had to claim he was only 25 though.
Eddie completed pilot training in just 17 days and received his commission. However, Rickenbacker’s superior mechanical abilities from his days as a racecar driver sidetracked his flying career and got him assigned as the engineering officer at the Air Service Pursuit Training facility.
After finding a replacement, Rickenbacker was finally assigned to a combat flying unit – the 94th Aero Squadron – in March 1918. The squadron began flying combat missions in early April, and Rickenbacker wasted no time getting in on the action. On April 29th, Rickenbacker scored his first aerial victory and also his first Distinguished Service Cross for a vigorous fight and pursuit of a plane into enemy territory to shoot it down.
During May 1918 Lt. Rickenbacker downed five more German airplanes while earning an additional four Distinguished Service Crosses, each time attacking and dispersing larger formations of enemy planes.
Rickenbacker, through a lucky streak that seemed to last his entire life, also gained a reputation for surviving close calls and crash landings. In July 1918 in a particularly harrowing incident, “he barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller, and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.”
A few days later he was grounded by an abscess in his ear but was back flying by the end of July. However, with his last kill at the end of May he would go many months without another victory.
Then on September 14, Rickenbacker started a remarkable streak, claiming his seventh kill and sixth Distinguished Service Cross. He downed another plane the next day. On September 25, he was promoted to Captain and made commander of the 94th Aero Squadron.
He promptly volunteered for a solo patrol, during which he encountered a flight of seven German planes below him. Rather than be thankful that no one saw him, he dived on the formation and attacked the shooting Germans, downed two enemy aircraft, and forced the rest to retreat. For this action, he was awarded his seventh Distinguished Service Cross.
Twelve years later, in 1930, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
At the beginning of October, Capt. Rickenbacker had 12 aerial victories. He was the leading living American pilot and was dubbed the ‘Ace of Aces’ by the press. He disliked this title because all three previous holders died in combat.
Despite his discontent with the new title, Rickenbacker led the 94th through severe fighting until the end of the war. During that time, Rickenbacker shot down ten enemy aircraft and three balloons, making him an official “balloon buster.” He also earned his eighth Distinguished Service Cross of the war – a record that hasn’t been broken.
Capt. Rickenbacker ended World War I with a total of 26 aerial victories to his credit, the American ‘Ace of Aces’ for World War I and the rank of Major. The Army promoted Rickenbacker as he left active duty but he never claimed the promotion. He felt his “rank of Captain was earned and deserved.” The public referred to him to as “Captain Eddie” for the rest of his life.
After the war, Rickenbacker went into many ventures in the automobile and aviation industries and survived many more brushes with death. He survived a near-fatal crash in early 1941 that had him out of action for almost a year. During World War II, while on a personal mission to deliver a message to Gen. MacArthur from President Roosevelt and to inspect American aviation facilities in the Pacific, the plane he was flying in lost its way and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.
Rickenbacker and the surviving crew members endured over three weeks of life rafts before rescue. Consistent with his dogged determination Rickenbacker completed his assignment before returning to the states, despite losing 60 pounds and suffering from severe sunburn.
Rickenbacker, without formal education past age twelve, would eventually rise to control his own airline, Eastern Air Lines, and make it the only self-sufficient, free-enterprise – he accepted no government subsidies – airline in America for many years. He was also the majority owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years during which time he significantly improved the track.
Captain Eddie retired in 1963. In 1972 he suffered a stroke, his last near-death experience. He recovered from the stroke but while visiting Switzerland he contracted pneumonia, and his luck finally ran out. He passed away July 23, 1973, at the age of 82 – a renowned fighter pilot and successful businessman.
Go to an Army career counselor or recruiter and he has all sorts of cool jobs you can sign up for. Soldiers network satellites, engage in hacking wars, and shoot awesome weapons at targets and enemies.
It’s like your childhood video games, fireworks, and backyard games all got awesome upgrades and now you can get paid for it.
But some of the Army’s best jobs are actually in the past, like those that allowed people to get intimately acquainted with tactical nuclear weapons or fire awesome Gatling guns. So here are six of those badass jobs Pvt. Skippy can’t do in the Army anymore:
1. Nuclear weapons basic maintenance specialist
Yeah, the Army used to have a nuclear weapons program and it employed a group of men with a whole three weeks of training to disassemble and repair those weapons.
For obvious reasons, tank-delivery motorcycle riders were re-classed after the Army figured out how to use tanks to recover one another. (If it’s not obvious, it because repair personnel protected by literal tons of armor are safer than those riding motorcycles and protected by only their uniforms).
Full disclosure, there are a few different signal intelligence jobs that could have been included in this list. Most of them have been folded into other specialties or been quietly terminated as their own job because the march of technology has made them unnecessary. After all, how much Morse intelligence is there to collect anymore?
The reason that Morse interceptor was selected for the list is that it’s the only one of these lost signal intelligence jobs that was once held by Johnny Cash. Cash did the job in the Air Force, not the Army, but still.
6. Chapparal/Vulcan Crewmember
The Chapparal and Vulcan were M113 armored vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons. The Vulcan packed a six-barrel Gatling gun that could be deployed separately from the M113 when necessary, while the Chapparal carried AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. While the Chapparal role was largely replaced with the Army Avenger program, no direct descendant of the Vulcan exists.
While the Vulcan was largely outdated for anti-aircraft operations, the Army gave up a great ground weapon when it lost the Gatling gun. Vulcan crew members could fire 20mm rounds at up to 6,600 rounds per minute, targeting low-flying aircraft or enemy infantry and vehicles.
The cause of a Sept. 20, 2016 crash near Sutter, California, that destroyed a TU-2S Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft and killed a pilot has been released.
The Air Force officially reported that the TU-2S was on a training mission. When the trainee — not identified in the Air Force release — finished a stall recovery drill, the plane went into what the release called an “unintentional secondary stall.”
The release reported that both pilots ejected from the airplane before it inverted and descended below the minimum safe altitude. The instructor, Lt. Col. Ira S. Eadie, was killed when he was struck by the stricken plane’s right wing. The trainee received minor injuries.
The Air Force release noted that nobody was injured on the ground, but the $32 million trainer was completely destroyed in the crash.
“This tragedy impacted the Eadie family, Beale, and the local community. We will continue to provide support to those affected and always remember the sacrifice Lt. Col. Eadie made in the line of duty.”
“The results of the accident investigation were presented to us, affording our family some small degree of closure during this difficult situation,” the Eadie family said in the statement from Beale Air Force Base.
“We would like to thank the entire investigation team for their diligent efforts in helping make sense of this tragedy. We greatly appreciate the love and support from all who have assisted over the past few months. We would also like to thank you in advance for respecting our family’s privacy during this current period of grieving.”
An Air Force fact sheet noted that as of September 2015, five TU-2S trainers were on inventory. The first version of the U-2 flew in 1955, and the last U-2 was produced in 1989.
This is the time of year to celebrate our country’s independence and our loved ones that fight for our freedom every single day. Whether this will be your first Fourth of July party that you will be throwing or the 40th, below are some tips and tricks to have an awesome and relaxing Fourth of July party.
Keep it simple! No one will complain about a backyard barbeque. Below will be a mix of appetizers, sides, and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Below are five crowd favorite appetizers and sides to accompany your hot dogs and burgers:
1. A simple and light salad for any crowd
6 cups romaine lettuce
2 cups mixed greens
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 whole cut avocado
1 cup Parmesan
2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
¼ red onion thinly sliced
2 chicken breast, baked and cut into 1/4in. pieces
8 oz. Caesar dressing
Mix all together with dressing and serve.
2. Bacon Green Beans
1 lb. green beans halved
2 cups cooked bacon cut into ¼ in. cubes
3 cloves garlic diced
1 tbsp. butter
½ yellow onion thinly sliced
Place butter into a saucepan with the onion and garlic. Let brown and add green beans and cooked bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
3. Pasta Salad
This is one of my favorites things to make. It takes about 30 minutes in total to make and I can make it the night before any barbeque and it tastes great the next day.
Two boxes tri-color Rotini pasta
Cook the pasta all the way through. Drain. Add olive oil to the drained pasta so it does not stick together.
Chop one green and red bell pepper into ¼in. cubes
Chop one half red onion
Chop 7 oz dry salami into ¼in. cubes
8 oz. sliced black olives
1 cup shredded parmesan
2 cup quartered tomatoes
8 oz. mozzarella cheese ¼in. cubes
Mix all together with 8 oz. light Italian dressing. Serve.
4. Macaroni and Cheese.
I am in love with macaroni and cheese, the cheesier the better in my opinion. To be honest the better the cheeses the more expensive. So this could be the most expensive of the sides, but it is soooo worth it. Also when purchasing the cheese DO NOT purchase already shredded cheese. Just buy a block and shred it.
1 lb. Cavatappi noodles
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
4 cup whole milk
6 cup cheese of your choice.
½ tbsp. salt
½ tbsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. oregano
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Boil pasta in salted water until cooked. Drain and pour in 1 tbsp. olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking. While the pasta is cooking melt butter in a saucepan and sprinkle in flour and whisk. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, add in salt and pepper. Slowly pour milk whisking until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat. Place noodles into a greased casserole dish. Over the top of the noodles sprinkle the shredded cheese. Pour the thickened cream sauce over the cheese and noodles. Melt the 2 tbsp. butter, oregano and panko bread crumbs together. Cook until golden brown. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the macaroni and cheese. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
5. 7-Layer Dip
So I will admit this is not my favorite of all appetizers, but it was always a huge hit at any family function. In a casserole dish:
Layer refried beans
Layer sour cream
A layer of Mexican shredded cheese mixTomatoes cut in half and sliced olives for the top layer. If you are feeling extra festive you can arrange the tomatoes to be in rows and olives in the upper left corner to replicate our flag.
Of course, some chips and dip are always a crowd pleaser, this could be a great item to ask guests to bring (along with any alcohol) to help keep the cost reasonable.
Since I am a California girl I do have to suggest trying some tri-tip for your barbeque. If you have never heard of tri-tip it’s incredibly normal, it’s mainly a California barbeque meat. Baking or grilling tri-tip with a basic marinade will be a big crowd pleaser for any party. It takes about 30-45 minutes to cook and can be found at almost any base. A simple dry rub of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes is my hands down favorite when I am rushed for time.
Top 4 alcoholic drinks (besides beer):
1. Red, white and blue jelly shots
1 berry blue Jell-O packet
6 oz. vodka
1 plain gelatin packet
3 oz. sweetened condensed milk
2 ½ oz. raspberry vodka
1 strawberry Jell-O packet
6 oz. vodka
Heat six oz. water to boiling, pour in a bowl with blue Jell-O and whisk until dissolved. Stir in blueberry vodka. Pour into a casserole dish (8×8, 9×9, or 13×9). Refrigerate until solid.
Repeat previous steps, but with plain gelatin, condensed milk and raspberry vodka. Pour over the solid first layer and place it back in the fridge.
Repeat one last time with the strawberry Jell-O and plain vodka. Pour over solid white layer and place back in the fridge until solid. When Jell-O is completely set, run a knife around the edges of the Jell-O and turn over onto a large sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. If the Jell-O is not separating you can place the bottom of the pan under hot water to help separate from the pan. From the sheet pan, you can either cut the Jell-O into any shapes. Serve.
2. Red, White, and Blue Sangria
1 bottle white wine
1 ½ can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed.
½ cup vodka
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 granny apples (if feeling extra festive cut apples into thin slices and cut slices with a star-shaped cookie cutter)
½ cup raspberries
½ cup blueberries
Pour all ingredients into a 3qt. pitcher and stir. Let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hrs. Serve over ice. Add a few pieces of fruit in each glass.
3. Star Spangled Sparkler
2 cups watermelon stars
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 bottle chilled dry white wine
1 litter chilled Sprite
Pour all ingredients into a 3 qt. pitcher and stir. Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve with a few pieces of fruit in each glass.
4. Spiked Arnold Palmer
4 cups of water
10 black tea bags –
1 oz. mint leaves
½ cup of sugar
4 cups cold water
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 cup bourbon
Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and mint. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and mints. Stir in sugar until melted. Pour the tea into drink dispenser and stir in cold water, thawed lemonade concentrate and bourbon.
Serve over ice.
Top 3 non-alcoholic drinks (besides soda):
1. Patriotic Punch
Fill the cup halfway with ice
Filled 1/3 cup with cranberry juice
Fill 1/3 cup with Sobe Pina Colada
Fill remainder of the cup with blue Gatorade
(Always fill the bottom of the cup with the beverage that has the highest sugar content)
2. Classic Arnold Palmer
4 cups of water
10 black tea bags –
1 oz. mint leaves
½ cup of sugar
4 cups cold water
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and mint. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and mints. Stir in sugar until melted. Pour the tea into drink dispenser and stir in cold water and thawed lemonade concentrate. Serve over ice.
3. Sonic’s Cherry Limeade – Ingredients per drink
2 tbsp syrup
2 cherries per drink
1 can Sprite
Lime wedges cut in ½
1 per drink
Serve over ice.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
The day started out with a close-air support mission and ended with the first Navy air-to-air “kill” since 1991.
Three months after an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the carrier George H.W. Bush shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter near Raqqa, Syria, on June 18, 2017 the four Navy pilots who participated in the mission offered a blow-by-blow account during a special panel at the Tailhook 2017 Symposium.
In a recording first uncovered by The Drive, the pilots describe an operating environment that had become more unpredictable and dynamic.
The George W. Bush, which had been launching daily airstrikes from the Persian Gulf, had moved into the Mediterranean in early June, just days before the mission.
“Everyone’s kind of heading to the same place that day, to Raqqa,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael “MOB” Tremel, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 87, the “Golden Warriors,” who would ultimately execute the shoot-down that day.
“At that point in time, the [area of responsibility] was pretty hot in that general vicinity and a lot of guys were dropping bombs,” he said.
Walking to the jets, the mission of the day was close-air support, and that’s what the pilots on board the Bush were prepared for.
But there was time en route for a cup of coffee — both Tremel and his wingman, VFA-87 training officer Lt. Cmdr. Jeff “Jo Jo” Krueger, enjoyed some java at 22,000 feet inbound to Raqqa, Tremel said.
“Again, we briefed to CAS and that was going to be our mission that day, so we felt like it would be in our wheelhouse, what we were doing,” he said. “But we also trained to all the air-to-air contingencies we might have and we talked about that.”
Eventually, the aircraft arrive in the region and coordinated with two other Hornet pilots, all in a “stack” above the area of operation. All four were communicating about events playing out on the ground far below.
“We’re hearing that the situation’s getting more heated on the ground with some of the friendly forces getting closer to some of the Syrian forces so, based on that, we get Jo Jo and MOB on the radio,” said Lt. Cmdr. William “Vieter” Vuillet, a pilot with another squadron attached to the Bush, VFA-37 “Raging Bulls.”
As the pilots prepared to execute their CAS mission, someone spotted a Russian Flanker aircraft circling overhead, an occurrence the pilots said was not unusual in the region.
Throughout the deployment, the pilots said, their interactions with Russian fighters were professional.
But as a cautionary measure, Tremel, who previously had some minor technical issues with his aircraft, volunteered to follow the aircraft and monitor its actions.
Picking Up the Syrian Aircraft
“I’ll extend out in air-to-air master mode while these guys are in air-to-ground master mode to monitor the situation on the ground,” Tremel said. “That’s when I’ll pick up an unknown aircraft approaching from the south.”
Observers, including Air Force assets in the region, were sending conflicting information about the identity of the aircraft, but eventually a consensus emerged that it was a Syrian plane.
Tremel decided the best thing he could do is get a visual ID on the aircraft and its activities, so he decided to descend and get a better look.
Meanwhile, Krueger worked to streamline radio communications, shedding secondary tasks and focusing on keeping information flowing as the situation unfolded.
As Tremel neared the Syrian aircraft, he emphasized that he was ready to return to his primary job as soon as he could be sure it posed no danger to friendly forces.
“Our whole mission out there was to defeat ISIS, annihilate ISIS,” he said. “So as quickly as we can get back to that mission, that was our goal that day … At any point in time, if this had de-escalated, that would have been great. We would have gotten mission success and [gone] back to continue to drop bombs on ISIS.”
But that was not to happen. The Hornets began putting out radio warning calls to persuade the SU-22 Fitter to turn around, but it kept approaching friendly ground forces.
Krueger then advised that the U.S. aircraft should execute “head-butts,” close overhead passes on the Syrian aircraft with warning flares, Tremel said.
They ultimately did three such passes, with no effect on the Syrian plane.
Su-22 Releases Ordnance
“After that third one, he [proceeded] to execute a dive and release ordnance in proximity of friendly forces,” Tremel said.
As the Syrian aircraft climbed after dropping ordnance, Tremel would respond, firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. For reasons he didn’t explain, the sidewinder missed the Fitter.
“I lose the smoke trail and I have no idea what happened to the missile at that point in time,” he said.
Losing little time, Tremel let another missile fly — an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM. This time, it had the desired effect.
“The aircraft will pitch right and down and pilot will jump out and left in his ejection seat,” he said.
Wanting to stay clear of the debris field, Tremel executed a quick turn to the left, he said, allowing the ejection seat to pass to the right of his canopy.
The pilots described the events in understated terms, but acknowledged adrenaline was high as they returned to operations.
Vieter, who descended to get a visual following the air-to-air engagement, said he and the pilot flying with him, Lt. Stephen “Scotty P” Gasecki, could not resist getting on a secure communication channel to tell the tanker crew what happened when they went to refuel.
Vieter and Gasecki opted to continue with their mission, while Tremel and Krueger soon decided to return to the ship.
‘No Small Feat’
Krueger said it was “no small feat” for Tremel to take the initiative to arm his aircraft and fire ordnance at an armed aircraft for the first time in two-and-a-half decades.
“Looking at the wreckage down below us, It was a different feeling,” Krueger said. “… We had to make some decisions pretty quickly, and I thought that the training and commander’s guidance that we got at that point was a big deal.”
Upon return to the ship, the fanfare was underwhelming; the sentiment was merely that “the show goes on,” Tremel said.
He shook a few hands on the flight deck, then was ushered away, the ordnance remaining on his aircraft quickly reloaded onto other fighters that would launch within the hour.
He even completed his scheduled safety officer duties once back aboard the ship, he said.
As he addressed the Navy’s annual convention of fighter pilots, though, the atmosphere was different.
“It’s extremely surreal to be sitting here in this environment,” Tremel said. “I couldn’t have done it without the guy sitting next to me, Jo Jo, and the other guys that were airborne. It was an absolute team effort, to include all the coordination that went on with the Air Force the entire time we were in the AOR.”