At age 83, Marine Corps veteran William Cox stands and walks with the help of a cane. But for one day in November, 2017, he stood for hours without it, wearing his old uniform. It was the last act of a promise he made in 1968 to his best buddy in Vietnam. That buddy, James Hollingsworth, was laid to rest that day.
Cox is a Vietnam War veteran and retired Master Sergeant. It was New Year’s Eve and he and retired First Sergeant Hollingsworth were fortified down in a bunker in the Marble Mountains, just south of Da Nang. From above them, the Viet Cong were raining explosives down on their position. Rockets, mortars, whatever the VC could find. As fiery death pelted their position, they made a promise to each other.
“Charlie was really putting on a fireworks show for us,” Cox told the Greenville News. “If we survived this attack, or survived Vietnam, we would contact each other every year on New Years.”
And they kept the pact they made in that bunker every year for 50 years. Cox, who lives in Piedmont, S.C., visited Hollingsworth at his Anderson County home just under 20 miles away. But it was another promise Cox made to Hollingsworth that was finally fulfilled one day in late November, 2017 — the retired Master Sergeant stood guard at his longtime friend’s funeral as he was laid to rest.
He then delivered his eulogy.
That was also a promise kept, but not one made in Vietnam. When Cox found out his buddy was terminally ill, he made a visit. That’s when Hollingsworth made the morbid request of his longtime friend. The two had known each other long before spending that explosive New Year’s Eve together in 1968. Their bond as Marines kept their friendship for the rest of their lives.
Hollingsworth, a helicopter mechanic, and Cox, an ordnance chief, served in a helicopter squadron together. At the end of each mission, Cox would deliver Hollingsworth a line he delivered one last time at the end of his best friend’s eulogy.
“Hollie, you keep ’em flying, and I’ll keep ’em firing.”
A top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander in Iran says his forces are ready to confront U.S. forces should President Donald Trump act on his warning that Tehran will “suffer consequences” if it threatens the United States.
“Mr. Trump, how dare you threaten us?” Qassem Soleimani, who leads the IRGC’s elite foreign operations Quds force, was quoted as saying on July 26, 2018.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine…. Come. You will start the war, but it is us who will end it, ” Soleimani said in a speech in the central city of Hamedan.
He made the remarks in response to a July 22, 2018 all-capital-letters post on Twitter by Trump in which Trump warned Iran not to “threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
Trump’s tweet came following comments by Iran’s President Hassan Rohani who said: “America should know peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Soleimani called Trump a “gambler” and said his language belongs in “nightclubs.”
“We’re ready to stand against you,” Soleimani, who has been blacklisted by Washington, added.
Rohani said on July 25, 2018, that Trump’s “empty” threats did not deserve an answer.
Iran’s governmental IRNA news agency reported that, after Rohani mentioned “baseless comments” by “some U.S. leaders,” he told a cabinet meeting “there is no need for us to respond to any nonsensical comment and answer back to them.”
Soleimani said he’s responding to Trump “as a soldier.”
“Don’t threaten to kill us; we’re thirsty for martyrdom,” he was quoted as saying by the hard-line IRGC affiliated Fars news agency.
Following his Twitter warning, Trump suggested on July 24, 2018, that he’s ready to talk to, saying, “We’re ready to make a real deal.”
In May 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and announced that the United States is moving to reimpose tough sanctions.
U.S. officials have been telling countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil by November 2018.
Iran has warned of equal countermeasures, with Rohani suggesting that the country could block Persian Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
“The Red Sea, which was secure, is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.
Nothing united Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds like the mortal threat posed by the Islamic State. But with the terrorist group now in full retreat on the battlefield, it didn’t take long for Iraq’s old sectarian animosities to resurface — presenting a major new headache for the Pentagon and the Trump administration.
With Islamic State now driven out of its major bastions in Iraq and Syria and on the verge of being wiped out as a military force in the Middle East, those deep-seated cleavages within the region are re-emerging in fresh rounds of political and sectarian infighting.
Washington’s remarkable feat of uniting lifelong enemies in the region into a military coalition formidable enough to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria appears to be coming apart at the seams. Since September’s referendum by Iraqi Kurds — a vote aimed at charting a path toward an independent Kurdish state — US-backed forces in the fight against Islamic State have quickly turned their guns on one another.
Iraqi government forces, backed by Shiite militias trained and equipped by elite troops from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, rapidly and violently recaptured critical territories in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk and Sinjar governorates this month.
Kurdish peshmerga, who claimed the contested territories after driving out Islamic State fighters in 2014, were quickly outgunned by Baghdad’s troops and the Iranian militias known as Popular Mobilization Units — which only months before had fought alongside the peshmerga in the battle for Islamic State’s Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.
Meanwhile, defense officials in the White House and the Pentagon continue to tout the cohesiveness of the anti-Islamic State coalition, brushing off concerns that the politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse factions will undermine efforts to build a united Iraq.
That rosy assessment, said one former US ambassador to the region, puts the coalition’s entire victory at risk.
“The ISIS fight is over, and the new fight for the region is unwinding now,” former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said. With the fall of Mosul in July and the collapse of Islamic State’s self-styled capital of Raqqa this month in Syria, regional players are reverting to their sectarian loyalties in an attempt to secure their holds on power, he said.
“Nobody in Irbil is thinking of the ISIS threat [anymore]. No one in Baghdad is thinking about it,” said Mr. Jeffrey, now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The US government has not gotten its head around that yet.”
But remarks by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson seem to indicate that mentality is shifting, at least among the US diplomatic corps. In his harshest rebuke yet of Iranian military influence in the coalition, Mr. Tillerson demanded that Tehran pull back its paramilitary forces from Iraq. “Certainly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” he said alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during a joint press conference in Doha.
“Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors,” the top US diplomat said. Pentagon officials reiterated their faith in all members of the coalition days earlier, telling reporters that the US-led coalition remains as robust as it was since the early days of the war.
“The coalition is very strong. And again … I think the relationship is very strong,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters at the Defense Department on Oct. 20.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Photo from US State Department.
While underlying ethnic and sectarian tensions were a constant threat to unravel the US-backed coalition, Irbil’s decision to press ahead with its independence referendum vote was the trigger that brought tensions to the fore, Mr. Jeffrey said.
“I do not know what they were doing, but they missed this one,” he said regarding Irbil’s inability or unwillingness to anticipate the regional fallout from the referendum vote, which Iraq, Iran, Turkey and the United States all opposed.
The decision unleashed a new round of violence in northern Iraq over the past several weeks. The result was the Kurdistan Regional Government’s secession of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and handing over Sinjar to the Iranian-backed militias federalized by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the height of the war against Islamic State.
The referendum vote stirred decades-old conflicts suppressed during the Islamic State fight, a former top Iraqi diplomat said. The referendum vote in Iraqi Kurdistan and ensuing aftermath “is a clear example where the political leadership have not been able to resolve some of the core challenges they have been facing since 2003,” former Iraqi Ambassador to the US Lukman Faily said Oct. 23.
“Even if the government can find some solutions to these new crises, the underlying challenges in relation to political and social harmony requires much more soul searching by all stakeholders who instigated a needless referendum in which [Iraq] will feel its consequences for some time to come,” he said in a statement.
Besides fueling internal strife, the referendum created openings for world powers aside from the US to expand their influence in the country. Baghdad’s reliance on the Shiite militias armed by the IRGC, which the Trump administration placed on the official list of recognized terrorist groups this month, has further cemented Tehran’s sphere of influence in the country.
“The US has been sidelined in this crisis, [and] that is a dangerous precedent,” Jennifer Cafarella, the senior intelligence planner at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Washington Times shortly after the recapture of Kirkuk by Iraqi forces.
“Mr. al-Abadi does get to claim this as a win,” Ms. Cafarella said, but she noted the armed support from Iran undermines the legitimacy of that victory in Kirkuk. “This was not a unilateral operation by Iran” in Kirkuk, but the thinly veiled presence of military advisers from Iran only shows Tehran’s reach into Iraq, she added at the time.
Tehran is not the only US adversary wading into the growing problem of Iraqi Kurdistan. On Oct. 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would maintain economic and diplomatic ties with the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, but urged Irbil to continue dialogue with Baghdad.
“We understand the hopes of the Kurdish people as it concerns their striving to strengthen their identity, their self-awareness,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters during a joint briefing with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari.
“However, we believe it is correct to realize those desires, those hopes exclusively via the Iraqi government and taking fully into account the significance the Kurdish question has on a regional scale, and taking into account the need to avoid additional sources of instability in the region,” he added, according to Reuters.
However, analysts say Russia’s overtures and seeming support for Kurdistan’s referendum effort is Moscow’s attempt to fill the vacuum of support left behind by Washington. Moscow is reportedly attempting a similar effort to persuade US-backed forces in Syria to abandon their American patrons and side with Russia.
Turning support of American proxy fighters in Syria to Russia has always been part of Moscow’s regional strategy for the country, said Christopher Kozak, a research analyst specializing in Syria at the Institute for the Study of War.
“Russia’s role is to co-opt our US-[backed] forces on the ground” once Islamic State is defeated in Syria, Mr. Kozak said in a September interview. “They see the best option is to have some kind of regime rapprochement [with the SDF] and remove the US. That would be the best position from the Russian perspective.”
While it remains unclear what Moscow’s strategy for Iraqi Kurdistan may be, a robust Russian presence in northern Iraq coupled with its already formidable military presence in Syria, would give Moscow the opportunity to press its interests deeper into the Middle East as the US military posture in post-Islamic State Iraq begins to wane.
At the start of the new millennium, the United States military was a very different organization. But then, so too was the United States as a country. In the past 20 years, the military has experienced an incredible shift in not only demographics, but also in the way it is formed. This trend will only continue.
A Pew Research Center study of the Department of Defense analyzed all of the data released by the U.S. military on its demographic makeup and found some key facts about how the U.S. military and the men and women who served in it has changed.
The Army is still the biggest, and the other branches are shrinking
In 2015, the Army was more than a third of the total active-duty force of the United States military. The Air Force and Navy were about a quarter of the force each, with the Marines and Coast Guard comprising 14 percent and 3 percent, respectively. These days, the Navy and Air Force have seen a sizable shrinkage in terms of how big they are in comparison to Big Army. The Marine Corps has also shrunk, although not to the same extent.
The Coast Guard, however, has grown.
The profile of the American veteran will shift significantly
Right now, 91 percent of veterans are male, but by 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double while the actual number of female veterans will increase to more than 2.2 million. The number of male veterans is predicted to drop by half, to 9.8 million in 2045. These groups will also become more ethnically diverse as the older generations of veterans die. The share of Hispanic vets is expected to double, and the expected share of African-American veterans will increase to 16 percent.
Fewer Americans are veterans and that number will only drop
As of 2015, seven percent of the American population were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980. With it came a drop in the number of active-duty military personnel, and the numbers keep on dropping. In 2045, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of veterans will drop by 40 percent of its current population, as Gulf War vets become the dominant era, and Vietnam veterans start to die off.
More women are joining – and more are in command
The number of women in the U.S. military is rapidly changing. According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps. More than one in five commissioned officers were women in 2017, a number that is projected to rise, a far cry from women being just five percent of officers in 1975.
The U.S. military is getting smaller – troops are seeing more action
One in five veterans today served after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result of being a smaller force than the U.S. military of the Cold War Era, which includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts of the time, Members of the post-9/11 military generation were more likely to have deployed and served in combat. They are also more likely to have experienced some kind of traumatic incident.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi officials to discuss the United States’ security concerns amid what he called “escalating” Iranian activity.
Pompeo’s May 7, 2019, visit to the Iraqi capital came after the United States earlier this week announced the deployment an aircraft carrier battle group to the Middle East, which U.S. official said was in response to threats to American forces and the country’s allies from Iran.
The U.S. intelligence was “very specific” about “attacks that were imminent,” Pompeo said in Baghdad, without providing details.
Tehran has dismissed the reported threat as “psychological warfare.”
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since President Donald Trump one year ago withdrew the United States from the 2015 between Iran and world powers and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran.
After meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad, Pompeo told reporters: “We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country.”
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets Iraqi President Barham Salih, in Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 9, 2019.
(State Department Photo)
He said the purpose of the meetings also was to inform Iraqi leaders about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” so they could effectively provide protection to U.S. forces.
Pompeo said he had assured Iraqi officials that the United States stands ready to “continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation.”
“We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq,” he said.
Asked about the decision to deploy additional forces to the Middle East, Pompeo said: “The message that we’ve sent to the Iranians, I hope, puts us in a position where we can deter and the Iranians will think twice about attacking American interests.”
After his four-hour visit, Pompeo tweeted that his meetings in Baghdad were used “to reinforce our friendship to underline the need for Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities Coalition personnel.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim said the sides discussed “bilateral ties, the latest security developments in the region, and anti-terrorism efforts.”
U.S. forces are deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.
Ahead of the visit, Pompeo said he would also discuss with the Iraqis pending business accords, including “big energy deals that can disconnect them from Iranian energy.”
Earlier, the U.S. secretary of state had attended a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland and abruptly canceled a planned visit to Germany due to what a spokesperson said were “pressing issues.”
White House national-security adviser John Bolton on May 5, 2019, said that the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and accompanying ships, along with a bomber task force, to waters near Iran was intended to send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
The United States was acting “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton said.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch)
The Pentagon said on May 7, 2019, that the U.S. bomber task force being sent would consist of long-range, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the USS Abraham Lincoln was already due in the Persian Gulf and dismissed the U.S. announcement as a “clumsy” attempt to recycle old news for “psychological warfare.”
“From announcements of naval movements (that actually occurred last month) to dire warnings about so-called ‘Iranian threats’,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “If US and clients don’t feel safe, it’s because they’re despised by the people of the region — blaming Iran won’t reverse that.”
The latest escalation between Washington and Tehran comes ahead of the May 8 anniversary of the U.S. pullout from the nuclear agreement with Iran that provided the country with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
A senior official with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was killed in a strike on a terrorist camp in Mali involving French warplanes and commandos, the French defense ministry confirmed Aug. 27, 2018.
The lifeless body of Mohamed Ag Almouner, a senior leader for the ISIS affiliate that claimed responsibility for a deadly ambush that left four American Green Berets dead in Niger in 2017, was found on the battlefield by a French-led unit after an airstrike by two Mirage fighter jets Aug. 26, 2018, according to a report from Stars and Stripes, which cited a statement from the French military.
An unidentified member of the group was also killed.
In October 2017, armed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara militants ambushed US and Nigerien troops. Five Nigeriens and four Americans were killed while another ten people were wounded. During the firefight that ensued, US and Nigerien forces managed to kill nearly two dozen terrorists.
The four American special operations soldiers who lost their lives in the fight were: Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black. The US Army Special Forces team leader Capt. Michael Perozeni, who was singled out for blame in an investigation into the ambush during which he was wounded, is reportedly being considered for a silver star, the military’s third-highest valor award for gallantry.
Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson.
(US Army photos)
The US military maintains a presence in Niger to “provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts, in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region,” US Africa Command spokesman US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo told CNN after the incident in 2017.
France has deployed thousands of troops to West Africa for Operation Barkhane, an effort to eradicate Islamist militants in the region.
Aug. 26, 2018’s airstrike also ended the lives of two civilians. “The French criteria for opening fire are particularly strict and aim at avoiding civilian casualties,” the French military said in a statement, “The proven presence of civilians near the target would have led to the cancellation of the mission. An investigation is underway to determine how civilians were hit during this strike.”
US Africa Command said that it “routinely works with our French partners in the Sahel region, who provide a bulk of the force with more than 4,000 military forces,” adding that the US remains ” committed to assisting the French-led operations to degrade violent extremist organizations and to build the defense capacity of … Mali and its neighbors.”
Featured image: A French Air Force Mirage F1CR.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us — our smartphones.
A new live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as “contact tracing.”
Other countries are likely to follow suit. The US Senate’s trillion economic stimulus bill includes 0 million for the CDC to launch a new “surveillance and data collection system” to monitor the spread of the virus, though it’s not yet clear exactly how this system will work.
Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN’s Digital Rights Lead who compiled the index, warned that the world could slide into permanently increased surveillance.
“Without adequate tracking, there is a danger that these new, often highly invasive, measures will become the norm around the world,” he told Business Insider. “Although some may appear entirely legitimate, many pose a risk to citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression.
“Given how quickly things are changing, documenting the new measures is the first step to challenging potential overreach, providing scrutiny and holding corporations and governments to account.”
While some countries will cap their new emergency measures, otherwise may retain the powers for future use. “There is a risk that many of these new capabilities will continue to be used following the outbreak,” said Woodhams. “This is particularly significant as many of the new measures have avoided public and political scrutiny and do not include sunset clauses.”
Here’s a breakdown of which countries have started tracking phone data, with varying degrees of invasiveness:
South Korea gives out detailed information about patients’ whereabouts
South Korea has gone a step further than other countries, tracking individuals’ phones and creating a publicly available map to allow other citizens to check whether they may have crossed paths with any coronavirus patients.
The tracking data that goes into the map isn’t limited to mobile phone data, credit card records and even face-to-face interviews with patients are being used to build a retroactive map of where they’ve been.
Not only is the map there for citizens to check, but the South Korean government is using it to proactively send regional text messages warning people they may have come into contact with someone carrying the virus.
The location given can be extremely specific, the Washington Post reported a text went out that said an infected person had been at the “Magic Coin Karaoke in Jayang-dong at midnight on Feb. 20.”
Some texts give out more personal information however. A text reported by The Guardian read: “A woman in her 60s has just tested positive. Click on the link for the places she visited before she was hospitalised.”
The director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-kyeong, acknowledged that the site infringes on civil liberties, saying: “It is true that public interests tend to be emphasized more than human rights of individuals when dealing with diseases that can infect others.”
The map is already interfering with civil liberties, as a South Korean woman told the Washington Post that she had stopped attending a bar popular with lesbians for fear of being outed. “If I unknowingly contract the virus… that record will be released to the whole country,” she said.
The system is also throwing up other unexpected challenges. The Guardian reported that one man claiming to be infected threatened various restaurants saying he would visit and hurt their custom unless they gave him money to stay away.
Iran asked citizens to download an invasive app
Vice reported that Iran’s government endorsed a coronavirus diagnosis app that collected users’ real-time location data.
On March 3, a message went out to millions of Iranian citizens telling them to install the app, called AC19, before going to a hospital or health center.
The app claimed to be able to diagnose the user with coronavirus by asking a series of yes or no questions. The app has since been removed from the Google Play store.
“The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection,” said Jyan Hong-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security. Jyan added that local authorities and police should be able to respond to anyone who triggers an alert within 15 minutes.
Even having your phone turned off seems to be enough to warrant a police visit. An American student living in Taiwan wrote in a BBC article that he was visited by two police officers at 8:15 a.m. because his phone had run out of battery at 7:30 a.m. and the government had briefly lost track of him. The student was in quarantine at the time because he had arrived in Taiwan from Europe.
Austria is using anonymized data to map people’s movements
On March 17 Austria’s biggest telecoms network operator Telekom Austria AG announced it was sharing anonymized location data with the government.
The technology being used was developed by a spin-off startup out of the University of Graz, and Telekom Austria said it is usually used to measure footfall in popular tourist sites.
Woodhams told Business Insider that while collecting aggregated data sets is less invasive than other measures, how that data could be used in future should still be cause for concern.
“Much of the data may remain at risk from re-identification, and it still provides governments with the ability to track the movement of large groups of its citizens,” said Woodhams.
Poland is making people send selfies to prove they’re quarantining correctly
Google has also indicated it is taking part in discussions.
Like other European democracies, the UK doesn’t seem to be exploring the more invasive method of contact tracing. However, it is considering using aggregated data to track the wider pattern of people’s movements.
The Pentagon warned on Thursday morning that anyone who tries to breach the US Embassy in Baghdad would face a “buzzsaw.”
Swarms of violent protesters and apparent supporters of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia targeted by recent US airstrikes stormed the gates of the embassy on Tuesday, forcing the Pentagon to react.
About 100 Marines from a special crisis-response unit created after the 2012 attacks on US diplomatic posts in Benghazi, Libya, were sent in to reinforce the embassy, and 750 paratroopers from the Army 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force deployed to the US Central Command area of operations.
At a press briefing on Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said that “we are very confident in the integrity of that embassy.”
“It is highly unlikely to be physically overrun by anyone,” he said, adding that “anyone who attempts to overrun that will run into a buzzsaw.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley
(DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)
The US on Sunday conducted airstrikes against five positions of the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, in retaliation for a rocket attack days earlier on an Iraqi base that killed a US contractor and wounded several American service members.
President Donald Trump has pinned the blame for both the rocket attack and the assault on the embassy on Iran.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible,” he tweeted on Tuesday, later adding: “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
The past year has been largely characterized by heightened tensions with Iran, which the US military has deployed roughly 15,000 troops to counter since May.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at the briefing on Thursday, according to Voice of America, that the US would “take preemptive action” against Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias in Iraq “to protect American forces, to protect American lives.”
He added: “The game has changed. We’re prepared to do what is necessary.”
Esper said that there were indications that groups opposed to the US presence in the area might be planning additional attacks.
“Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.
(DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
The Department of State told Insider on Wednesday that the situation at the embassy “has improved” and that the Iraqi security forces had stepped in to provide additional security, clearing protesters away from the outpost.
The embassy, which cost an estimated 0 million, is in a 104-acre compound in the fortified Green Zone, making it the world’s largest embassy.
“Though the situation around the Embassy perimeter has calmed significantly, post security posture remains heightened,” the emailed statement read. The Pentagon has left the door open to sending more troops to the Middle East to counter threats to US personnel in the region.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United States and Iran have traded warnings over U.S. efforts to block Iran’s oil exports, with Tehran suggesting that it could retaliate by blocking oil tankers from leaving the Persian Gulf.
The exchange began on July 4, 2018 when Iranian President Hassan Rohani, while visiting with Austria’s leader in Vienna, hinted that Tehran will block shipments of oil from neighboring Persian Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iraq in response to the U.S. sanctions plan.
“The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero…. It shows they have not thought about its consequences,” Rohani said.
That comment prompted a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander to praise Rohani and say the elite military group is ready to carry out his policy.
“I kiss your hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic republic,” Major General Qassem Soleimani said in a letter to Rohani published by state news agency IRNA.
Major General Qasem Soleimani
Rohani was responding to a U.S. warning that Washington has told countries around the world that they must halt all imports of Iranian oil when U.S. sanctions against Iran go into effect on November 4, 2018, or face the possibility of U.S. financial penalties.
Rohani did not elaborate on his remarks, but Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway at the tip of the Persian Gulf through which a large share of the world’s oil shipments pass, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action against Iran.
The Pentagon responded to the Iranian rhetoric with a vow to keep the critical waterway open.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, told the Associated Press on July 4, 2018, that the U.S. Navy and regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”
Rohani while in Vienna called the U.S. effort to block Iran’s critical oil exports — which are the economy’s main driver and source of revenues — along with other looming U.S. sanctions “crime and aggression,” and he called on European leaders to resist them.
President Hassan Rohani
Rohani warned that European leaders must “guarantee” that Iran continues to enjoy the benefits of its nuclear deal with world powers — including the freeing up of Iranian oil exports after global sanctions were lifted in 2016 — or Iran may walk away from the deal like the United States did in May 2018.
The leaders of Germany, Britain, and France — the three European signatories to the nuclear deal — have vowed to keep honoring the deal, but they have said that the looming U.S. sanctions make it difficult for them to give Tehran guarantees.
The United States also is pressuring Japan and other major buyers of Iranian crude oil in Asia to stop such imports.
But Kyodo news agency reported on July 4, 2018, that Tokyo has informed Washington that it cannot further cut or halt crude imports from Iran without harming Japan’s economy.
At the same time, Kyodo reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abandoned his plans to visit Iran this summer in light of Washington’s sanctions push against Iran.
A major Islamic State group counterattack July 7 along the northern edge of Mosul’s Old City neighborhood has pushed Iraqi Army forces back some 75 meters (82 yards) and is threatening recent gains in other Old City fronts, an Iraqi military officer said.
The officer said the attack was launched just after noon July 7 and estimated it was carried out by 50 to 100 IS fighters. A doctor at a medic station said he received more than a dozen wounded Iraqi soldiers.
Both men spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Iraqi security forces have retaken almost all of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — from IS militants who overran it in 2014.
In late June, IS counterattacks on the western edge of Mosul — neighborhoods retaken months earlier — stalled the push by Iraqi forces to go deeper into the Old City as they forced a reallocation of Iraqi ground forces, coalition surveillance, and air support.
Unlike the July 7 attack, the late June counterattack was launched from outside Mosul, most likely from Tal Afar, an IS-held town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Mosul.
The counterattacks underscore the extremist group’s resilience in Iraq, despite significant territorial losses and months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by US air power.
The pockets of IS-held Mosul now measure less than a square kilometer.
Also on July 7, The UN’s migration agency suspended operations in two camps — the Qayara air strip emergency site and the Haj Ali camp — near Mosul hosting nearly 80,000 displaced Iraqis due to sporadic violence and exchange of gunfire.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the security situation prevented six water-tanker trucks from entering the Haj Ali camp, where temperatures reached the low 50s Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in recent days.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly suspended operations in and around Mosul due to security concerns since the fight to retake the city from IS began last October.
In April, the United Nations suspended operations in the same area due to security threats along the road south of Mosul’s western half.
In February, the UN suspended operations in eastern Mosul weeks after the area was declared fully liberated as IS attacks continued to inflict heavy civilian casualties.
In both instances, the UN resumed operations within a matter of days.
Supporting the military is nothing new to T-Mobile. The carrier is one of America’s most dedicated veteran employers. In keeping with the practice of asking customers what they want and giving it to them, T-mobile asked its veteran employees what they needed. The veterans answered truthfully. T-Mobile listened — in a big way.
“We change to adapt to our customers’ needs, we listen to their pain points” says Matt Staneff, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of T-Mobile. “Our veteran employees and customers transitioning out of the military were just making ends meet during long periods of unemployment.”
And so began the company’s Military Support Initiative.
(Twitter @JohnLegere, T-Mobile CEO)
T-Mobile decided to go all-in for the military-veteran community in a number of ways. On top of the benefits of buying into T-Mobile’s ONE family plan (of which there are many, including a Netflix subscription), T-Mobile will now offer that plan at half-off for military families — along with half-off of popular Samsung smartphones. It’s not just the biggest discount T-Mobile has ever offered, it’s the biggest discount in the wireless industry. Ever.
But the carrier’s plan is more than just a discount and some great service, it’s a real investment in military communities. It starts with the discount, but T-Mobile quickly recognized that making it easier for transitioning military families to make ends meet was solving only part of the bigger problem: the long period of unemployment. So, T-Mobile decided to do something about that, too.
“Our plan to hire military veterans has had phenomenal success to date,” says Staneff. “We have vets in every department performing very well. What veterans bring to the culture of T-Mobile is one of the keys to our success.”
A few years back, the company pledged to hire some 5,000 veteran employees, and not just for entry-level positions. The company employs vets at all levels and in all areas. Now, they’ve pledged to hire 10,000 more veterans — and their spouses — in the next five years.
“It took a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do during transition,” says Tana Avellar, once an active duty Army officer who now serves in the Washington State National Guard. She is also a T-Mobile employee. “I can’t be more proud to work for a company that is such an advocate for their employees, veterans, and their families overall.”
(Photo from Tana Avellar)
But T-Mobile is looking to help out all veterans, not just the ones who want to work for them. It’s teaming up with FourBlock, a career readiness nonprofit designed for veterans and their families. The company is funding FourBlock’s Massive Open Online Course, a training course based in 15 cities in the U.S. (with four more on the way). The training helps spouses gain employment while giving them the confidence to pursue the jobs they’re more than qualified to do.
The last part of T-Mobile’s investment plan is a real investment, in both T-Mobile’s future and military families. The company is rolling out a $8 billion investment in new infrastructure, and will start that with a $500 million plan to build new 5G towers in military communities.
“Our mission is to have the best coverage for all Americans,” says Staneff. “And bases aren’t always near big cities. So, we wanted to make sure everyone had access to the fastest networks, whether they live in cities or rural small towns, military bases or somewhere in between. They all deserve the same access.”
A State Defense Force (SDF) is a state militia under the command of the chief executive of that state only. Twenty-five states in America have some kind of SDF, and all states have laws allowing one. Whether they call it state guards, state military reserves, or state militias, they are not a part of the National Guard of that state and only partially regulated by the federal government and cannot come under federal control.
In addition to its National Guard, if any, a State, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, or the Virgin Islands may, as provided by its laws, organize and maintain defense forces. A defense force established under this section may be used within the jurisdiction concerned, as its chief executive (or commanding general in the case of the District of Columbia) considers necessary, but it may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces.
During World War I, Congress authorized states to create Home Guards as reserve forces aside from the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. During WWII, the 1916 legislation was amended to allow state militaries to defend their own states. Now called State Guards, they were trained and equipped by the federal government but maintained their separation. It wasn’t until 1956 that Congress allowed for the continual existence of these units outside of a wartime role. For a time, these SDFs existed only on paper. During the Reagan Administration, that changed. Reagans Department of Defense wanted SDFs in all states.
The last part of the legislation says an SDF cannot be drafted into the Armed Forces of the United States, but that same legislation says that an individual member can. This is to ensure the independence of the SDF from the state National Guard. While typically organized as Army units, the SDFs vary, with some akin to the Navy and Air Force.
Before rushing to join your state’s SDF, be advised there are a lot of controversies surrounding SDFs. In the late 1980’s, the governor of Utah had to fire 31 officers for creating an SDF full of neo-nazis, mental patients, and felons. After September 11, 2001, Alaska disbanded its SDF because their lack of actual military training was more of a liability. New York’s SDF was full of Generals who have never had any military training, they were appointed by the governor as a reward for support. Some SDFs have no fitness or weight standards (California) while others are highly restrictive (Tennessee requires its SDF members be honorably discharged from the U.S. military).
State Defense Forces have assisted in many disaster-related capacities, however. They augmented forces in support of Hurricane Katrina relief, especially in states surrounding Louisiana, to assist with the expected influx of refugees. In Texas, the SDF responds to local emergencies (like flash floods) that aren’t declared disaster areas but need help anyway. They provide security augmentees for regular military forces and provide emergency medical training to National Guard units and other areas of the U.S. military.
The state SDF could be a good way for a military veteran to continue serving their country while providing those without that experience their much-needed expertise. Every state has a different enlistment process and requirements, so there isn’t a single portal to joining, but be sure to do the research on the training and operations for your home state before applying.