Two U.S. Air Force jet fighters scrambled to escort a pair of Russia Tu-95 strategic bombers that were conducting a flight over the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea, and the Sea of Okhotsk on Sept. 6, 2018.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Sept. 7, 2018, confirmed the incident, saying the bombers were performing “scheduled flights over neutral waters” when they were escorted by the U.S. F-22 warplanes.
Earlier, a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD), Michael Kucharek, told journalists that the Russian bombers were flying “in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, south of the Aleutian Islands.”
Two F-22s during flight testing.
(U. S. Air Force Photo)
“At no time did the Russian bombers enter Canadian or United States sovereign airspace,” he said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, has not had a good 2017. Having held an area the size of Ohio, the self-proclaimed “caliphate” now has only two percent of the territory it once had.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the terrorist group has also seen a drastic reduction in terms of how many fighting personnel are on the field. At present, they are estimated to have roughly 1,000 fighters, down from a high of 45,000. As many as 70,000 jihadists have been killed.
At least half of ISIS’s territorial losses have come since President Trump took office. Where the radical Islamic terrorist group’s caliphate once reached Mosul and Raqqa, it now has a small sliver of territory along the border of Iraq and Syria. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, and the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, believes these results could he been achieved much sooner.
“The rules of engagement under the Obama administration were onerous. I mean what are we doing having individual target determination being conducted in the White House,” he told FoxNews.com, adding that the process took “weeks and weeks” because of micromanagement.
ISIS is still encouraging terrorist attacks, and some followers around the world are carrying them out. The New York Post reported that one ISIS-inspired attack set to take place on Christmas Day in San Francisco was thwarted by law enforcement. An ISIS-inspired truck attack on Halloween killed eight people.
While ISIS has been largely defeated, an old adversary is making a comeback in Syria. Joshua Geltzer, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, told FoxNews.com that al-Qaeda, the radical Islamic terrorist group that carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has shifted its “center of gravity” to the war-torn country.
Two violent explosions in galaxies billions of light-years away recently produced the brightest light in the universe. Scientists caught it in action for the first time.
The explosions were gamma-ray bursts: short eruptions of the most energetic form of light in the universe.
Telescopes caught the first burst in July 2018. The second burst, captured in January 2019, produced light containing about 100 billion times as much energy as the light that’s visible to our human eyes.
Gamma-ray bursts appear without warning and only last a few seconds, so astronomers had to move quickly. Just 50 seconds after satellites spotted the January explosion, telescopes on Earth swiveled to catch a flood of thousands of particles of light.
“These are by far the highest-energy photons ever discovered from a gamma-ray burst,” Elisa Bernardini, a gamma-ray scientist, said in a press release.
Over 300 scientists around the world studied the results; their work was published Nov. 20, 2019, in the journal Nature.
The Hubble Space Telescope imaged the fading afterglow of the gamma-ray burst GRB 190114C (center of the green circle) and its home galaxy.
50 seconds to capture the brightest, most mysterious light in the universe
Gamma-ray bursts happen almost every day, without warning, and they only last a few seconds. Yet the high-energy explosions remain something of a mystery to scientists. Astronomers think they come from colliding neutron stars or from supernovae — events in which stars run out of fuel, give in to their own gravity, and collapse into black holes.
“Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the universe and typically release more energy in just a few seconds than our sun during its entire lifetime,” gamma-ray scientist David Berge said in the release. “They can shine through almost the entire visible universe.”
After the brief, intense eruptions of gamma rays, hours or days of afterglow follow.
Telescopes have observed low-energy rays that come from the initial explosion and the afterglow.
“Much of what we’ve learned about GRBs [gamma-ray bursts] over the past couple of decades has come from observing their afterglows at lower energies,” NASA scientist Elizabeth Hays said in a release.
But scientists had never caught the ultra-high-energy light until these two recent observations.
On Jan. 14, 2019, two NASA satellites detected an explosions in a galaxy over 4 billion light-years away. Within 22 seconds, these space telescopes — the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope — beamed the coordinates of the burst to astronomers all over Earth.
Within 27 seconds of receiving the coordinates, astronomers in the Canary Islands turned two Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) telescopes toward that exact point in the sky.
On January 14, 2019, the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) observatory in the Canary Islands captured the highest-energy light ever recorded from a gamma-ray burst. This illustration of that event also shows NASA’s Fermi and Swift spacecraft (top left and right, respectively).
The photons flooded those telescopes for the next 20 minutes, leading to new revelations about some of the most elusive properties of gamma-ray bursts.
“It turns out we were missing approximately half of their energy budget until now,” Konstancja Satalecka, a scientist who coordinates MAGIC’s searches for gamma-ray bursts, said in the release. “Our measurements show that the energy released in very-high-energy gamma-rays is comparable to the amount radiated at all lower energies taken together. That is remarkable.”
The large central H.E.S.S. telescope array in Namibia detected the light from a gamma-ray burst on July 20, 2018.
(MPIK / Christian Föhr)
Ultra-high-energy light came in the afterglow, not the explosion itself
The photons detected from a gamma-ray burst six months earlier, in July 2018, weren’t as energetic or as numerous as those from the January explosion.
But the earlier detection was still notable because the flow of high-energy light came 10 hours after the initial explosion. The light lasted for another two hours — deep into the afterglow phase.
In their paper, the researchers suggested that electrons may have scattered the photons, increasing the photons’ energy. Another paper about the January observations suggested the same thing.
Scientists had long suspected that this scattering was one way gamma-ray bursts could produce so much ultra-high-energy light in the afterglow phase. The observations of these two bursts confirmed that for the first time.
Scientists expect to learn more as they turn telescopes toward more gamma-ray bursts like these in the future.
“Thanks to these new ground-based detections, we’re seeing the gamma rays from gamma-ray bursts in a whole new way,” Hays said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Kings Mountain High School teacher Hailey Spearman was made an honorary recruiter for the Shelby Army Recruiting Center at a ceremony on Fort Jackson, S.C. on April 22.
Spearman attended a Future Soldier event with her local Shelby recruiter, Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, and some of her students who have joined the U.S. Army this school year. They received first-hand experience of what Army basic training entails.
Spearman teaches English Language Arts and coaches the women’s track and field team at KMHS.
Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia Commander, said both teacher and recruiter work together to help students find their options for life after high school.
“Ms. Spearman is a model for what a community advocate does for our recruiting efforts,” Garbarino said.
He deputized her by giving her his Army Recruiting Badge in front of over 250 Future Soldiers and their guests. He also presented her with a plaque to thank her for her efforts to promote awareness on Army opportunities. Garbarino said he was pleased to recognize Spearman after hearing how she goes the extra mile for her students.
Raza said that Spearman has been instrumental to the process.
“I wanted to reach as many students as possible to show them all of their options,” Raza said. “She allowed me to give presentations during her English classes and to students who are on her track team.”
Spearman said Raza puts the needs of each student first.
“She has a way of building positive relationships with students and therefore, our students look up to her and respect her opinions concerning the Army,” Spearman said.
In 1987, singer David Bowie played a concert in West Berlin, near the Reichstag. The performance was so loud, a massive crowd gathered on the East side of the nearby Berlin Wall to better hear his performance. He could hear the East Germans behind the Iron Curtain, singing along.
At the time, he didn’t know it would be the catalyst for the beginning of the end the city’s crushing divide.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to keep East Berliners (and all East Germans) inside East Germany. It certainly wasn’t needed to keep Western citizens out. It quickly became a symbol of the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, the barrier between East and West that kept one side subject to the oppression of forced Communism and the other a burgeoning society of freedom and self-governance.
It was in Berlin where Bowie recorded his 1977 album, “Heroes,” a song about two lovers, one from East Berlin and one from the West. Living with punk legend Iggy Pop in the city’s Schöneberg neighborhood, Bowie could walk outside his door and see the tyranny and death that came with living in the heart of the Cold War. The song’s lyrics were so descriptive of the city’s plight, it became one of Berlin’s anthems:
I, I can remember (I remember) Standing, by the wall (by the wall) And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads) And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall) And the shame, was on the other side Oh we can beat them, forever and ever Then we could be heroes, just for one day
70,000 Germans attended the 1987 Concert for Berlin.
The artists spent years in Berlin recording his albums “Low” and “Lodger,” along with “Heroes.” Today, they’re referred to as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” A decade after recording “Heroes,” Bowie returned to Berlin as part of the Concert for Berlin, a three-day festival held near the Reichstag, the seat of West Germany’s parliament. Nearby was the Brandenburg Gate and, running through it, the notorious Berlin Wall. The music, forbidden in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rang out loudly in the West, and wafted over the wall.
Along with Bowie came Eurythmics, Genesis, and Bruce Hornsby. Thousands of East Berliners began to crowd the area near the gate, trying to get an earful as East German guards fought them back, dragging them away from the area and arresting the unruly. If they couldn’t listen near the wall, they could listen over the airwaves. The radio station Radio in the American Sector broadcast the concert in its entirety throughout the city, with the blessings of the artists and recording labels.
“It was like a double concert where the wall was the division,” Bowie told The Atlantic. “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer.”
Eventually, the crowd broke into a full-on chant of, “the wall must fall!” and “Gorby, get us out!” When the concert ended on the third night, the East German police beat back the crowd with billy clubs. Even though Bowie headlined the second night, it’s believed his performance attracted more East Berliners to the wall the next night. It was the overreaction from the East Berlin police that turned so many residents against the regime. It completely changed the mood of the city, which would only be divided for two years longer before frustrations overwhelmed the wall.
“The title song of the ‘Heroes’ album is one of Bowie’s best-known works and became the hymn of our then-divided city and its yearning for freedom,” said Berlin Mayor Michael Müller. “With this song, Bowie has not only set musical standards, but also unmistakably expressed his attachment to our city.”
Bowie played Berlin again in 1989, after the wall fell and the city was united. His last show in Berlin was in 2004. When Bowie died in 2016, the German government officially thanked him for bringing the wall down and unifying a divided Germany.
History books will forever speak of the countless heroics and astonishing life of General George S. Patton. He’ll always be remembered as the Army officer who became an Olympian, the “Bandit Killer” at Columbus, the “Father of Armor” in WWI, and the liberator of Europe. It’s hard for anyone to stand in that shadow, but Helen Patton, his granddaughter, would have made him extremely proud.
Like every member of the Patton family, Helen has done many great things with her life while also carrying the torch for her father and grandfather. From attending ceremonies commemorating WWII anniversaries to heading up the Patton Foundation, which aids returning troops and veterans in need, Helen continues the Patton tradition of giving to our great country.
She also set out to fix a missed opportunity in history by hosting the soldiers of the 101st Airborne in a game of football. In 1944, there were plans for the troops to play what was dubbed “The Champagne Bowl.” These plans were cut short on Christmas Day because they needed in a march toward the Battle of the Bulge.
With Luxembourg firmly liberated for the past 74 years, Helen Patton played in integral role in hosting what was renamed the “Remembrance Bowl.” The game was played on June 2nd, 2018, in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France by men of the 101st. Patton told the Army Times,
“I felt that we should play the game that never happened for them. It’s a new way to commemorate. It’s a way to turn the page of history.”
The event will now be an annual tradition.
Helen Patton champions military history as well. She has produced two award-winning documentaries, one about General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing and another about the continued struggles of war long after troops return.
She also hosted an amazing TEDxTalk about her grandfather, which can be seen below:
Austin Tice is a former Eagle Scout, a former Marine Corps officer, and an award-winning journalist held in captivity in Syria. The Georgetown law student was on assignment there in 2012, covering individual stories set amid the background of the Syrian Civil War. Just five weeks after he arrived in the country, unidentified armed men released a 43-second video of Tice blindfolded and held hostage.
No one has claimed responsibility for his capture, unusual for such a propaganda war. After the first five years, his family was still trying to piece together what happened that led to Tice’s capture. Now, the reward for information leading to Tice’s whereabouts is more than $1 million.
No other information, photos, or video related to Tice has been released since.
Tice’s family is on a mission to get the Syrian government of Bashar al-Asad and the government of the United States to cooperate, using every available resource to locate Austin Tice and bring him home. They say the United States believes Tice is alive. He was last seen getting into a car in a Damascus suburb but was detained at a checkpoint shortly after.
When President Trump took office in 2017, the new State Department set up a back-channel with the Syrian government to secure Tice’s release. Unfortunately, that’s when the U.S. involvement in Syria began to thicken, The administration was forced to launch Tomahawk missiles at Syrian military sites, and the talks stalled.
As of December 2018, Tice’s parents divulged that they had received information that Tice is still alive and had survived his captivity. They believe he is being held by the Syrian government or one of its allies and the U.S. State Department has called on Russia to exert its influence is obtaining Tice’s release.
The Syrians insist they don’t know where Tice is being held, but the Tice family maintains that the best chance for the man’s release would come from direct talks between the United States government and that of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Zayas wiped the sweat off his brow as he glared at the box on the floor in front of him. Listening to the loud music that echoed throughout the gym, Zayas took a deep breath as he anticipated his next set of exercises.
During a typical high-intensity workout, Zayas would be surrounded by other fitness enthusiasts, but not today. Alone at the Army Warrior Fitness Center, Zayas had one thing motivating him — the clock.
“Training by yourself is OK — you need it sometimes,” he said. “However, you always want somebody right next to you to try to beat you in a workout and give you that extra push.”
With a loud beep, the gym’s timer went off launching the former detentions noncommissioned officer into a fury of movements. For the next 20 to 25 minutes, Zayas would complete a series of box jumps, pushups, rows, wall-ball shots, and kipping pullups.
This was his first of three workouts that day.
High-intensity training started as a way to get back into shape and later evolved into a means to compete, he said. As a member of the Army Warrior Fitness Team, Zayas is determined to represent himself and the Army at high-level competitions, all while encouraging others to join the service he admires.
Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Zayas is determined to represent himself and the Army at high-level competitions, all while encouraging others to join the service he admires.
(Photo by Zachary Welch)
Finding his path
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Zayas was the first in his family to join the military. During the early years of his career, Zayas served as an 88H cargo specialist, but later re-classed to become a 31E internment/resettlement specialist.
Zayas married shortly after joining the military and his family grew, he said. At the same time, the family lifestyle took over. Zayas started to put on excess weight through poor eating habits and an ineffective fitness routine.
“I was back and forth between being in and out of shape,” he said. “I was on the border of getting kicked out of the Army.”
In 2011, Zayas deployed to Afghanistan and saw this as an opportunity to reset. He quickly locked down his diet, engaged in a rigorous fitness routine, and got back into shape.
Zayas returned home to Fort Bliss, Texas, with a healthier mindset and desire to help others. Upon his arrival, Zayas’ wife announced that she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. With a newborn on the way, he did what was necessary to balance his work, family, and fitness schedules.
Shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Zayas and his wife joined a CrossFit gym to help her get back into shape, he said. This was his first introduction to CrossFit.
“I was hooked,” he said. “But, the workout wasn’t much. I would go for one hour like everybody, and then I would work out again [later on].”
Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Zayas is determined to represent himself and the Army at high-level competitions, all while encouraging others to join the service he admires.
(Photo by Zachary Welch)
Zayas continued to dedicate much of his free time to his fitness routine, all while helping other soldiers with their PT performance, he said. The family eventually moved on to their next assignment at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Zayas was quick to find a local CrossFit gym.
“I met two guys over there that were really competitive,” he said. “I started training with them. That’s what got me into the [competitive scene]. It gave me a purpose.”
Determined to break into the competitive-fitness circuit, Zayas allocated what little free time he had toward his diet and workouts. As a detentions NCO, Zayas was responsible for many of the inmates at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks on Leavenworth.
The USDB is a maximum-security facility for male service members convicted of crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“I would work eight- to 12-hour shifts, to include physical training, and NCO [tasks],” he said. “It was stressful. You have to deal with different personalities and expected the worst.”
Fitness quickly became an outlet for Zayas to relieve stress, he said. During the worst of days, he would return home, change his clothes, and immediately go into his garage gym to unwind.
“I don’t like lifting angry,” he said. “Once I started training, I forgot what I was mad about.”
All of the long days and nights paid off, making him a better soldier, NCO, and competitive athlete.
For instance, Zayas put on three ranks in five years, and continuously was recognized for his exemplary PT performance. He served as the post-partum PT coordinator for his unit and helped soldiers get back into shape after childbirth. Lastly, Zayas went on to compete in several individual and team competitions throughout Kansas and Missouri.
More importantly, Zayas was selected to join the Army Warrior Fitness Program and PCS to Fort Knox, he added.
Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Zayas and other members of the U.S. Army Warrior Fitness Team attended the 2019 CrossFit Games to support their teammates, Capt. Chandler Smith and Lt. Col. Anthony Kurz, participating in the event. During their visit, the team engaged with the fitness community to share the Army’s story. In the photo, from left to right: Capt. Deanna Clegg, Capt. Kaci Clark, Capt. Allison Brager, 1st Sgt. Glenn Grabs, Capt. Ashley Shepard, Command Sgt. Major. Jan Vermeulen, Capt. Rachel Schreiber, Staff Sgt. Neil French, Spc. Jacob Pfaff, Staff Sgt. Gabriele Burgholzer.
(Photo by Devon L. Suits)
Army Warrior Fitness Program
The Army Warrior Fitness Program is an Army Recruiting Command engagement and outreach initiative. Through this initiative, the Army has an opportunity to connect the soldier community to the “fittest people in the American population,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Grabs, first sergeant of the Outreach and Recruiting Company.
“The Warrior Fitness Team started in the fall of 2018,” Grabs said. “The decision was made to organize a competitive team that could display the strength of the American soldier to the public.”
In February 2019, Zayas and 14 others were selected for the program. The team is a combination of strongman and woman competitors and functional fitness athletes who can participate in a wide range of competitions.
In general, functional fitness focuses on the body’s ability to do basic fundamental movements, such as squatting, bending, moving, jumping, and lifting, Grabs said.
“That’s the great thing about functional fitness,” he said. “These soldiers have the skills to compete at a high level. They can use some [fitness] components to pursue powerlifting, obstacle course races, and other competitions.”
Thus far, the feedback the team has received has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Grabs said.
During many of the competitions, former and current soldiers have asked how they can support the program. Several athletes have also commented on the team’s professional demeanor and overall humble attitude.
Moving forward, Zayas is determined to make the CrossFit Games, a national-level competition showcasing the most elite functional-fitness athletes from around the world, he said. Capt. Chandler Smith and Lt. Col. Anthony Kurz, members of the Warrior Fitness Team, recently represented the Army at the 2019 CrossFit Games.
“I think every athlete would like to get there,” Zayas said. “We are looking to go to the CrossFit Games as a team. I think we have a pretty good shot.
“I am grateful for the opportunity,” Zayas said about joining the functional fitness team. “I never saw it coming. I am grateful to my leadership, which allowed me to participate. We are building something new in the Army [and] it’s going to be here for a long time.”
With Russia’s announcement of a new permanent naval base in Tartus, Syria – long a port used by Russian (and prior to 1991, Soviet) forces, Moscow’s expansion into that war torn country continues even as the Assad regime is wracked by civil war.
But Russia has had a long history in the Med.
Tartus Naval Base has been used by the Russians since 1971. In those 45 years, it served as a forward operating location for the Fifth Eskadra (5th Operational Squadron). This unit was intended to counter the presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Med. The base had not been able to permanently support major vessels like the Kuznetov-class carrier; the Kirov-class battlecruisers; the Slava-class cruisers; or even modern destroyers and frigates in Russian service. The new construction at the base is intended to make it a permanent base for carriers and larger vessels as opposed to just a place to park.
The Fifth Eskadra was formed in 1967 after the Egypt-Israel Six Day War. The Soviets had been unable to find a way to inflict damage on the Sixth Fleet in the event of a war with the United States. This was not a solid strategic position from its perspective, and Russian naval legend Sergei Gorshkov pestered his superiors until the unit was formed.
The unit usually consisted of as many as 80 vessels, including two guided-missile cruisers and a number of smaller escorts like the Mod Kashin-class destroyer or Krivak-class frigate, ten diesel-electric submarines, and a host of auxiliary vessels. The Sixth Fleet usually had half that total, but much of its strength would be concentrated in a carrier battle group which could make life exciting (not to mention short) for the Soviet vessels.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians disbanded the Fifth Eskadra at the end of 1992 — a little over 25 years after the squadron was formed. Two decades later, in 2013, the Russians re-formed the squadron as the Syrian civil war heated up.
Now with about 10 vessels, it is a shadow of the force that faced off with the Sixth Fleet. Still, it is a sign that Russia is reasserting itself in the region.
A Kurdish female militia that took part in freeing the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group said on Oct. 19 it will continue the fight to liberate women from the extremists’ brutal rule.
In a highly symbolic gesture, Nisreen Abdullah of the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, made the statement in Raqqa’s Paradise Square — the same place where ISIS fighters once carried out public killings.
She said the all-women force, which is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIS, lost 30 fighters in the four-month battle to liberate Raqqa.
Under the rule of the Islamic State group, women were forced to wear all-encompassing veils and could be stoned to death for adultery. Hundreds of women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi minority were captured and forced into sexual slavery.
Raqqa was center stage of ISIS’ brutality, the de facto capital of the militants self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
“We have achieved our goal, which was to pound the strongholds of terrorism in its capital, liberate women, and restore honor to Yazidi women by liberating dozens of slaves,” Abdullah said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of several factions including the YPJ, said on Oct. 17 that military operations in Raqqa have ended and that their fighters have taken full control of the city.
The spokesman for the US-led coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, tweeted on Oct. 19 that the SDF has cleared 98 percent of the city, adding that some militants remain holed up in a small pocket east of the stadium. Dillon added that buildings and tunnels are being checked for holdouts.
Even as the guns have gone quiet, preparations for a reconstruction are underway.
In Saudi Arabia, a state-linked news website said a high-level Saudi official was in Raqqa to discuss the kingdom’s “prominent role in reconstruction” efforts. The Okaz site quoted unnamed Saudi sources as saying that Thamer al-Sabhan met with members of Raqqa’s city civil. The website said the United Arab Emirates will also play a role in rebuilding.
The report included a photograph of al-Sabhan, apparently in Raqqa with Brett McGurk, the top US envoy for the coalition battling the ISIS. Saudi Arabia is a member of the coalition. Al-Sabhan was previously ambassador to Iraq, but left amid threats from Iranian-backed militias.
The SDF is expected to hold a news conference in Raqqa on Oct. 20 during which the city will be declared free of extremists, for the first time in nearly four years.
The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for IS, which has seen its territories steadily shrink since last year. ISIS took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014, and transformed it into the epicenter of its brutal rule.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad met with a visiting Iranian army commander on Oct. 19 to discuss bilateral relations, the state news agency SANA said. The Iranian general also conveyed a message from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
SANA said Assad and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri focused on military cooperation, “which has witnessed a qualitative development during the war that Syria and its allies, mainly Iran, are waging against terrorism” in Syria.
Iran has been one of Assad’s strongest supporters since the country’s crisis began more than six years ago and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen to boost his troops against opponents.
SANA quoted Bagheri as saying that the aim of his visit is to “put a joint strategy on continuing coordination and cooperation at the military level.” He also stressed Iran’s commitment to help in the reconstruction process in Syria.
Bagheri met with several Syrian officials on Oct. 18, including Defense Minister Fahd Jasem al-Freij, and Syrian army commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Ayyoub.
Meanwhile the al-Qaeda linked Levant Liberation Committee released a rare video of its leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani, showing him speaking with his fighters. The release comes two weeks after Russia said it seriously wounded him in an airstrike.
The video appears to have been shot before an al-Qaeda offensive on a central government-controlled village on Oct. 6. Two days before the attack, Russia’s military claimed that al-Golani was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence of al-Golani’s purported condition.
The al-Qaeda-linked group subsequently denied al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health.
The U.S. Army has now produced at least 117,000 battle-tested, upgraded M4A1 rifles engineered to more quickly identify, attack, and destroy enemy targets with full auto-capability, consistent trigger-pull, and a slightly heavier barrel, service officials said.
The service’s so-called M4 Product Improvement Program, or PIP, is a far-reaching initiative to upgrade the Army’s entire current inventory of M4 rifles into higher-tech, durable, and more lethal M4A1 weapons, Army spokesman Pete Rowland, spokesman for PM Soldier Weapons, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“The heavier barrel is more durable and has greater capacity to maintain accuracy and zero while withstanding the heat produced by high volumes of fire. New and upgraded M4A1s will also receive ambidextrous fire control,” an Army statement said.
To date, the Army has completed more than 117,000 M4A1 upgrades on the way to the eventual transformation of more than 480,000 M4 rifles. The service recently marked a milestone of having completed one-fourth of its intended upgrades to benefit Soldiers in combat.
The Army is planning to convert all currently fielded M4 carbines to M4A1 carbines; approximately 483,000,” Rowland said. “Most of the enhancements resulted from Soldier surveys conducted over time.” Rowland explained that the PIP involves a two-pronged effort; one part involves depot work to quickly transform existing M4s into M4A1s alongside a commensurate effort to acquire new M4A1 weapons from FN Herstal and Colt.
Army developers explain that conversions to the M4A1 represents the latest iteration in a long-standing service effort to improve the weapon.
“We continuously perform market research and maintain communications with the user for continuous improvements and to meet emerging requirements,” Army statements said.
The Army has already made more than 90 performance “Engineering Change Proposals” to the M4 Carbine since its introduction, an Army document describes.
“Improvements have been made to the trigger assembly, extractor spring, recoil buffer, barrel chamber, magazine, and bolt, as well as ergonomic changes to allow Soldiers to tailor the system to meet their needs,” and Army statement said.
Today’s M4 is quite different “under the hood” than its predecessors and tomorrow’s M4A1 will be even further refined to provide Soldiers with an even more effective and reliable weapon system, Army statements said.
The M4A1 is also engineered to fire the emerging M885A1 Enhanced Performance Round, .556 ammunition designed with new, better penetrating and more lethal contours to exact more damage upon enemy targets.
“The M4A1 has improvements which take advantage of the M885A1. The round is better performing and is effective against light armor,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
Prior to the emergence of the M4A1 program, the Army had planned to acquire a new M4; numerous tests, industry demonstrations and requirements development exercises informed this effort, including a “shoot off” among potential suppliers.
Before its conversion into the M4A1, the M4 – while a battle tested weapon and known for many success – had become controversial due to combat Soldier complaints, such as reports of the weapon “jamming.”
Future M4 Rifle Improvements?
While Army officials are not yet discussing any additional improvements to the M1A4 or planning to launch a new program of any kind, service officials do acknowledge ongoing conceptual discussion regarding ways to further integrate emerging technology into the weapon.
Within the last few years, the Army did conduct a “market survey” with which to explore a host of additional upgrades to the M4A1; These previous considerations, called the M4A1+ effort, analyzed by Army developers and then shelved. Among the options explored by the Army and industry included the use of a “flash suppressor,” camoflauge, removable iron sights, and a single-stage trigger, according to numerous news reports and a formal government solicitation.
The M4A1+ effort was designed to look for add-on components that will “seamlessly integrate with the current M4A1 Carbine … without negatively impacting or affecting the performance or operation of the M4A1 weapon,” a FedBizOpps document states.
Additional details of the M4A1+ effort were outlined in a a report from Military.com’s Matt Cox.
“One of the upgrades is an improved extended forward rail that will “provide for a hand guard allowing for a free-floated barrel” for improved accuracy. The improved rail will also have to include a low-profile gas block that could spell the end of the M16/M4 design’s traditional gas block and triangular fixed front sight,” the report says.
Despite the fact that the particular M4A1+ effort did not move forward, Army officials explain that market surveys regarding improvements to the weapon will continue; in addition, Army developers explain that the service is consistently immersed in effort to identify and integrate emerging technologies into the rifle as they become available. As a result, it is entirely conceivable that the Army will explore new requirements and technologies for the M4A1 as time goes on.
This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.
The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”
Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.
1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.
Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.
Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.
“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”
Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.
“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”
2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.
You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.
“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”
She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.
“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”
3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.
If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.
In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).
4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.
When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.
“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”
A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”
“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”
The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.
“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”
5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.
“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”
The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.
A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)
“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”
6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.
When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.
“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”
Eric Bourquin agrees.
“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”
A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)
The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.
Royal Thai Marine Petty Officer 1st Class Pairoj Prasarnsa, Chief Jungle Survival Trainer with Marine Recon Patrol holds two Cobras during jungle survival training alongside his U.S. Marine counterparts
Royal Thai Marine Petty Officer 1st Class Pairoj Prasarnsa, Chief Jungle Survival Trainer with Marine Reconnaissance Patrol, displays a spider’s fangs during jungle survival training alongside his US Marines.