Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

The title of “influencer” is almost cringe-worthy these days. From entitled social media personalities who complain when they have to pay full price at a restaurant, to the viral hot takes from people who are pandering to their audience, there’s definitely plenty of “cringe” to go around.

But what about the veteran social media personalities who are out making a positive difference, or at least making your day a little brighter? You know, the ones who aren’t thriving on division or ego, but rather on their own talent to entertain and inspire.


This Veterans Day, We Are The Mighty is highlighting the top five veteran influencers that we think you should really be paying attention to. From modest followings to millions of followers, these are the service members who turned their trigger fingers into Twitter fingers … who went from dropping bombs to dropping dope memes … who went from … sorry, I’ll stop. Just make sure you check them out!

Justin Lascek | @justin.lascek

Recently severely wounded. Green Beret Medic.

Justin is a relative newcomer to the social media scene, but with just a single photo, he inspired millions of people and established himself as someone worth following.

On Sept. 6, 2019, he posted a photo to Instagram from his hospital bed. Wearing his green beret, a pair of sunglasses, and an epic beard, he flexed for the camera while almost completely naked, covered in fresh scars, and missing his lower legs. The caption read:

“Six months ago, give or take a day, my life was changed. Chaos. Pain. Survival. Scared. I’m going to die. Tell her I love her. Wish I had been better. Everyone do your job. In 2018 I wanted to die. I figured my luck would run out after the close calls on the first trip. And it did. But brothers and sisters, known and unknown, kept me here.

And I’m alive. And since the blast, I have never wanted to die. I was strapped into the Skedco during a hellish movement for the boys. The sun was in our faces. I gripped their hand and knew I didn’t want to die.

And I’m alive. It can be surreal when the reality hits. But my soul isn’t in turmoil. There was so much uncertainty last year, but now it’s clear without wavering or uncertainty.

Because I’m alive. Cheating death and myself gives an understanding of how special life is. Not just for me, but everyone. Especially you, the one who hurts, the one who thinks death will end the pain. I see you. Stay with us a little longer.

And be alive.”

It’s hard to read that and not be inspired, and we have a hunch that his 39,000 followers on Instagram agree with us. The post ripped through timelines and news feeds like a lightning bolt, and he has continued to publish even more motivational posts since then. He might still be recovering from his wounds, but this Special Forces medic continues to be ‘Doc’ by inspiring the masses.

Astin Muse | @amuse31 & @ArmyAmuse

Former Drill Sergeant. Current Army Recruiter. Entertainer.

If Astin Muse weren’t still in uniform, she’d probably be a star on Saturday Night Live. This U.S. Army drill sergeant turned recruiter has made herself military-famous with hilarious sketch comedy that she films herself and posts on the internet. The sketches range from sarcastic observations about life as an NCO, to hilarious reenactments of basic training buffoonery.

The military hasn’t always made it easy for her to pursue laughs though. Muse has had to go to battle with military leadership trying to shut her down, citing obscure military regulations as a way to clamp down on her social media profiles. Fortunately, she’s been able to continue the comedy with a few compromises that really hasn’t affected the quality of her sketches. With 128,000 followers on Facebook and 29,000 followers on Instagram, there are plenty of people who appreciate her brand of comedy either way.

The best part? She frequently offers actual career advice to her active duty followers who need an objective outside opinion. Afterall, she’s a non-commissioned officer in the greatest Army in the world first, comedian second!

Jack Mandaville | @JackMandaville

Writer. Entertainer. Vietnam veteran. Best friends with Scott Stapp. Single mom. Compulsive liar.

We seriously don’t understand how Jack Mandaville isn’t an A-list comedian celebrity yet. With only 33,000 followers on Instagram, this former Marine and Iraq war veteran is a once-in-a-generation talent that, so far, the veteran community has been able to keep to ourselves.

He started off as one of the founding writers behind the infamous DuffelBlog satire website, before going on to work at RangerUp where he and fellow funnyman Pat Baker cooked up hilarious internet videos on the regular. After stealing the show as one of the supporting cast in the feature film “Range 15”, Jack has gone on to produce near-daily internet marketing videos for companies like StrikeForce Energy, Black Ops Grooming, and Black Rifle Coffee Company by day, and headline Vet TV’s “Checkpoint Charlie” series by night.

If you like to laugh, if you appreciate brutally honest humor that takes no prisoners, or you’re just entertained by a man that clearly has no shame, then Jack Mandaville is a must-follow.

Jennifer Marshall | @Jenn13Jenn13

Private Investigator @deepsourceinvestigations. Host @thecw. Max’s Mom in Stranger Things 2. Actress. Patriot. Veteran. Volunteer for Pinups for Vets.

With acting credits on hits like Stranger Things, Hawaii Five-O, and NCIS, Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a serious talent making her way through Hollywood. But there’s more to the sailor-turned-actor than meets the eye: She volunteers for non-profit Pin-Ups for Vets, and before that, she spent time teaching in East Africa. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a private investigator for Deep Source Investigations in California.

With 12,000 followers on Instagram, Marshall offers a peek behind the curtains of the many productions she has worked on, while simultaneously advocating for a variety of veterans issues that often go unresolved, or even worse — unnoticed. And if you like what she has to say on Instagram, then you’ll love her as a host on The CW’s “Mysteries Decoded”!

Vincent “Rocco” Vargas | @vincent.rocco.vargas

Army Ranger. Drill Sergeant. Border Patrol Officer. Actor on FX’s The Mayans. Author. Entrepreneur.

You may know him as Ranger Vargas if you served alongside him during his time at 2nd Ranger Battalion, or even Drill Sergeant Vargas if you had the pleasure of going through Basic Training with him at the helm. But most reading this probably know him as “Rocco” from his Article 15 Clothing days making satirical military comedy videos alongside Mat Best and Jarred Taylor.

But these days, he’s known for his role as “Gilly” on FX’s Sons of Anarchy spin-off Mayans M.C. Vargas did the near-impossible when he landed that role, as many Youtube sensations never quite make the jump into a traditional acting career. The show is in its third season, and promises to be just the start in what will likely be a long acting career for the combat veteran-turned-thespian.

If you’re one of his 146,000 followers on Instagram, then you also know that he keeps himself busy on and off the set. He’s published multiple books, hosts the Vinny Roc podcast, and founded Throwbacks Barber Company — now open and cutting hair in Utah. This is one veteran on the go, and is definitely worth keeping up with on social media!

popular

The myth about carrots and good eyesight came from WWII propaganda

Remember when your mom told you to eat your carrots because they would give you better eyesight? Well, it’s sort of true. Carrots are rich in Vitamin A which helps maintain a clear cornea, the outside covering of the eye. The vitamin is also a component of rhodopsin, a protein in the eye that allows you to see in low-light conditions. However, eating carrots by the bagful won’t give you the eyes of an eagle. The notion that improved eyesight could be achieved by increased consumption of carrots came out of the early days of WWII.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
No lights because of German bombers? Eat more carrots (World Carrot Museum)

After the fall of France in 1940, Great Britain stood alone in Europe against Hitler and his Nazis. The island nation was dependent on supply convoys coming from America and British colonies. Britain was forced to ration the precious supplies, especially food. To reduce the country’s dependence on the increasingly targeted supply convoys, the British government encouraged its citizens to “dig on for victory” and plant vegetable gardens. Backyards, sports fields, and even the lawns at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle were converted to gardens to increase domestic food production.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe bombed England from the skies above. The attacks came under the cover of darkness to make the bombers more difficult to shoot down. In response, the British government imposed blackouts across the country to make the cities harder to hit. To encourage the people to grow more food, the government also started a propaganda campaign saying that eating carrots would help people see during these blackouts. While these campaigns might have helped grow more food at home, they were also meant to disguise Britain’s new secret weapon from the Germans.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
A Bristol Beaufighter with radar like the one Cunningham flew. Note the radar antennae protruding from its nose (Imperial War Museum)

In 1939, the RAF introduced on-board Airborne Interception Radar. Though ground radar could guide a fighter onto an enemy formation, its scope was limited when it came to the precision guidance required for a nighttime interception. By installing a radar in the aircraft itself, a radar operator could guide their pilot right behind an enemy aircraft, even at night. On the night of November 19, 1940, RAF squadron leader John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham scored the first night kill with on-board radar on a German Ju 88 bomber. Cunningham went on to score 20 kills during the war, 19 of which were at night.

The British government flaunted Cunningham’s successes with a propaganda campaign of his own. Pictures of the night fighter ace were published with superhero-like captions claiming that he had the same night vision as a cat. This superhuman ability was attributed to Cunningham’s carrot-heavy diet which gave him the Vitamin A needed to shoot down German bombers at night. While this campaign likely convinced plenty of young men to eat more carrots, its intended audience was still the Germans.

While there is no evidence that the Germans entirely fell for the claim (they didn’t start a bombing campaign against British carrot gardens), the Germans did believe that carrots were linked to good health. Though there was no official publication, there are stories from Luftwaffe squadrons of commands feeding their pilots more carrots. Of course, the Germans would eventually develop their own on-board radar, and the myth of carrots gifting cat-like night vision was debunked. However, the urban legend persists today. After all, it’s still a great way to get your kids to eat their veggies.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
American war propaganda encouraging the consumption of carrots (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force needs more pilots – and this is where it’s looking

The Air Force has made a number of moves to reduce its shortage of active-duty pilots, including bringing on more retired pilots to administrative roles in order to keep qualified fliers in the air.


Now the service is looking to expand the number of pilots it draws in from the Air National Guard and Reserve to fill vacancies across the active-duty force.

On Oct. 1, the Total Force Aircrew Management — Assignment Augmentation Process grew from 10 positions to 30, in an effort to bring active reserve-component fighter pilots who are available and interested into the active-duty force for two to three years, according to an Air Force release.

“This is a growing total-force program,” said Maj. Walt Ehman, head of the TFAM-AAP. “It enables all air components to help fill pilot-assignment positions around the world.” (Positions are only open to fighter pilots and fighter-combat-systems officers, however.)

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, assigned to Detachment 1, 138th Fighter Wing, dons his helmet in preparation of a barnstorming performance for reporters, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Drew A. Egnoske)

The TFAM-AAP, started in 2014, brings together the management of active-duty, Air Guard, and Reserve aircrew resources, whereas previously each component had its own office overseeing officers and career enlisted airmen.

“TFAM enables the use of a single agreed-upon model, in one office, to make training and resource decisions, provide policy guidance, and make integrated recommendations to solving problems like aircrew shortfalls,” Ehman said.

Boosting TFAM-AAP openings is one of many initiatives the Air Force is pursuing to improve retention, production, and absorption.

Related: Air Force says no plan to recall retired pilots

On the retention side, a number of quality-of-life improvements have been implemented, including reducing administrative duties for pilots and increasing pay and bonuses.

To boost production, the Air Force is considering outsourcing some aspects of training, like adversary-pilot duties, as well as partnering with external organizations to augment the training process.

The Air Force’s Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty, or VRRAD, program is also open to up to 25 retired fliers from any pilot specialty code who elect to return to fill “critical-rated staff positions,” allowing active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

An amended executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month also allows the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 pilots to active duty for up to three years. However, Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, director of the Air Force’s aircrew crisis task force, has said the service doesn’t intended to force anyone back into active duty.

Rather, he told Military.com, the executive order is an addendum to the VRRAD, giving the Air Force “more access to more retirees” for a longer period of time. Koscheski said the order opened the VRRAD program to personnel who could act as instructors.

The Air Force’s component forces are about 1,500 pilots short of the 20,300 they are required to have. According to Koscheski, 1,300 of those absent are fighter pilots.

Humor

6 crazy things MPs have found during vehicle inspections

Anyone who drives up to a military base’s front gates trying to gain access can expect some kind of inspection. The process can be as simple as getting your ID checked, but other times you’ll be instructed to drive into the vehicle examination lane, where MPs, or military police, bust out the undercarriage mirror and drug-sniffing dogs.


Most people don’t care because they have nothing to hide, but on some occasions, MPs make some interesting discoveries.

Related: 9 examples of the military’s dark humor

We asked a few our of MP friends about the craziest things they’ve found during their vehicle inspections. Here’s what they said:

6. Male-enhancement pumps

We’re told this is the most embarrassing one to be caught with… Strangely, nobody ever claims ownership.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

5. Steroids

Yup. Those are illegal no matter how much they improve your bench press. Unsurprisingly, this product is commonly found among servicemembers who carry the infantry MOS.

4. Marijuana

Even if the plant is legal in your state, it’s still illegal on military bases. The amounts vary from a few grams to several ounces. Often, the substance is hidden in shoe boxes and gas tanks.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
This smuggler decided to hide their stash in a shoe box. (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

3. Inflated blow-up dolls

Nope! You’re not getting a visual, but you can use your brilliant imagination… failing that, there’s always Google.

2. Ninja weapons

You never know when you need to fight evil forces.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

Also Read: 6 crazy things actually found in boot camp amnesty boxes

1. Urine bottles

Some servicemembers have to work as duty drivers, and they log several hours in government vehicles. They, too, are subject to inspections. If the servicemember is under time constraints and making a pit stop isn’t on the schedule, an empty bottle of Gatorade works just as well.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
Maybe it’s Gatorade?

MIGHTY TRENDING

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the demilitarized border zone between North and South Korea into the communist dictatorship had political motivations and wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.


The man, who has not yet been named, has been detained by the South Korean government and now will be deported, according to NK News.

The man crossed “with the judgment that he could contribute to the situation in the North,” Suh Wook, Chief Director of Operations at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NK News.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
Korean Demilitarized Zone. ROK and US Soldiers at Observation Post Ouellette, South Korea. Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson.

The man apparently thought he could help along the peace process between the US and North Korea, two nations still technically at war, authorities told NK News.

Related: These ax murders along the DMZ almost started another Korean War

The man had planned his defection on the internet and intended to simply walk across the ceasefire line, which is illegal under South Korean law. Most who enter or exit North Korea choose to do so through the country’s border with China, rather than crossing one of the most heavily guarded and militarized zones on Earth.

On Nov. 14, the same day the US man attempted his crossing, a North Korean soldier defected to the South while fleeing from a hail of gunfire and being shot five times. The North Korean is being treated for his injuries in South Korea.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The CIA takes on Marvel Comics tech it considers a real possibility

Before you laugh it off and remind us all that Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are just movies (and/or comics) and should not be taken seriously, let me remind you there are numerous examples of sci-fi and fantasy leading to the development of real-world technology. Video calling, holographic projections, tablets, Bluetooth devices, and even tractor beams were all inventions of fiction that later became reality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the U.S. is currently building the TALOS suit, an Iron Man-inspired suit of mechanical armor.


So, it’s not all that surprising that a CIA scientist would break down Wakanda’s advanced, fantastic tech to see what’s possible — and to see what could become a real threat.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
Um… one thing at a time, guys.
(Marvel)

The analysis was part of the agency’s #ReelvsRealCIA series, and the scientist (whose name was not revealed) is an expert in emerging technology and digital innovation. She pitted Marvel’s Wakandan technology against the limits of today.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

Inching toward being the first supervillain, one day at a time.

1. Vibranium

Vibranium is the rare metal that Wakanda has in abundance, deposited there by an asteroid 10,000 years ago. The metal can absorb vibrations from all kinetic energy, which includes both conventional and energy weapons. The ability of the metal to absorb vibration also means it absorbs sounds. This material is what makes Captain America’s shield indestructible.

A real-world metal with these comic-book properties doesn’t exist, but there are a few substances that come close, according to “Rebecca,” the CIA’s scientist.

  • Tungsten Carbide – This chemical compound can compress materials and store energy to be released later.
  • Diamond nanothreads – Carbon atoms bonded together the way they are seen in diamonds can hold a lot of energy when woven into fabric.
  • Vibranium – Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is developing a material they call “Vibranium” (because of course Elon Musk is), a woven carbon alloy that is eight times stronger than steel and five times lighter. The threads can also store and send data about its condition.

2. Tactical Sand

Vibranium-infused sand forms real-time depictions of tactical situations — it’s data visualization using sound waves to form shapes in the sand. The technology may be fictional, but the theory behind it is very much a reality. Rebecca says it’s based on Chladni’s law, which states that different sound frequencies cause sand to form different patterns.

But a pattern isn’t a tactical display. What about the actual data coming in, can that be represented in sand? The answer is yes, and MIT is doing it right now. Researchers can make sand respond to real-time movements, using it as they would pixels, allowing people who are in a remote area to interact with data in real time.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

(Marvel)

3. Kimoyo Beads

Tiny beads of vibranium that can hold personal data or perform specific functions, all triggered by touch, are a feature of every Wakandan.

Devices that can be engaged via touch clearly exist (most of you are reading this on a touchscreen device, after all) as does remote control technology. The problem, at the moment, is in the holographic communication. The physics of light waves and the space required for holographic projections restricts this technological function.

What excited “Rebecca” most about Kimoyo beads is the use of blockchain technology in storing personal information. Blockchain technology means data is not stored in a central server and is therefore much less vulnerable to hacking and theft than traditional databases.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

Unfortunately the nanomachines just shred whatever clothing you’re wearing.

(Marvel)

4. The Panther Habit

T’Challa’s Black Panther suit is comprised of woven Vibranium nanoparticles, tiny machines that emanate from his necklace, swarming over his skin and forming a protective suit that can absorb energy, regenerate, and self-replicate.

Rebecca notes that nanotechnology is primarily being developed in the medical field right now, but swarm intelligence like the kind used by the Panther Habit is being developed for use with drones. As for lightweight cloth that can absorb vibrations and shocks, there are a few companies who are working on similar technologies that have a lot of interest from national sports leagues, the U.S. military, and law enforcement.

5. Invisibility Cloaks

Using lens technology to bend light around objects, like the tech being developed at the University of Rochester, gives researchers the ability to hide objects. Right now, this technology only works on human vision, and must be seen through the lens, but the evidence below is pretty amazing.

Nanotechnology opens the door to real invisibility cloaking, and is already being done on a very, very small scale. But the CIA’s scientist points out that hiding a whole country from satellites that have radiation and heat detection is still going to be very unlikely, even if it can’t be seen with the human eye.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day

6. Basotho Blankets

Basotho blankets are the amazing tribal blankets worn by the border tribe that just happen to double as deflector shields. Unfortunately, even if we consider vibranium to have near-magical properties, light will never be able to stop a physical object or other light, as Rebecca points out.

She does point to another way to create an energy shield:

“In Physics of the Impossible, physicist Michio Kaku says that you’d need a “plasma window,” a frame in which gas could be heated to 12,000°F, to vaporize metals (even vibranium?) Alternately you might use high-energy laser beams that crisscrossed each other, to vaporize objects, but both of these require more rigid structure than a cloak. Back to carbon nanotubes! If you could weave those into a lattice (or a cloak), they could create a screen of enormous strength, capable of repelling most objects. The screen would be invisible, since each carbon nanotube is atomic in size, but the carbon nanotube lattice would be stronger than any ordinary material. Add in some cool hologram effects, and you could have a pretty nifty shield that would be the envy of any intelligence service operating in a warzone.”
MIGHTY TRENDING

The War in Afghanistan costs America $45 billion every year

Forty-five billion dollars. That’s how much the Pentagon says the Afghan war is costing American taxpayers, and, with no end in sight, they may have to keep footing that bill for years to come.


Lawmakers, skeptical about the prospects of victory, grilled the Trump administration Feb. 6 on the direction of the nation’s longest-running war, now in its 17th year. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing comes after a wave of shocking militant attacks in Kabul that killed more than 200 people.

Randall Schriver, the Defense Department’s top Asia official, said the $45 billion total for the year includes $5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. forces inside Afghanistan. Much of the rest is for logistical support. Some $780 million goes toward economic aid.

The costs now are still significantly lower than during the high point of the war in Afghanistan. From 2010 to 2012, when the U.S. had as many as 100,000 soldiers in the country, the price for American taxpayers surpassed $100 billion each year. There are currently around 16,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Both Republican and Democratic senators highlighted the scale of the continuing outlay from Washington. Six months prior, President Donald Trump unveiled his strategy for turning the tide in the war, setting no time limit on the U.S. military’s involvement in the war-battered country, saying it would be based on conditions on the ground.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
U.S. Soldiers conduct a patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers to check on conditions in a village in the Wardak province of Afghanistan Feb. 17, 2010. (DoD photo by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest, U.S. Army)

Tens of billions are “just being thrown down a hatch in Afghanistan,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. “We’re in an impossible situation. I see no hope for it.”

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts suggested that those funds could be more effectively spent in saving American lives by investing in treatment for those suffering from opioid abuse. He cited research that two months of Afghan spending could fund an opioid center in every county in the United States.

Painting a bleak picture of the Afghan political and security situation, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon complained that every couple of years, U.S. administrations claim the corner is being turned in the Afghan war. He listed problems with corruption, government dysfunction and Afghan security forces, and said U.S. hopes of using military pressure to compel the Taliban to reach a political settlement were unrealistic.

Also Read: The Pentagon will restrict information about the 16-year war in Afghanistan

“Why do the Taliban want a political settlement? They now control more territory than they did since 2001,” Merkley said.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who visited Kabul and met with President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan government members last week, conceded it wasn’t a “rosy situation.”

The attacks last month were a real shock to many people in the government,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to come here and say, Henry Kissinger-like, that peace is at hand … but we’ve got a policy that we believe in. We want to stick to it.

He said the U.S. remains committed to brokering peace talks between the government and the Taliban. When Trump declared that the U.S. would no longer talk with the militant group, Sullivan said the president’s thrust was that “significant elements” of the Taliban are committed to violence and not prepared to negotiate. Sullivan said Ghani shared that view.

But Sullivan added that the insurgent group isn’t monolithic and the focus is on peeling off “those elements of the Taliban that we can reconcile with.”

Separately, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the decision to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying it was to prevent “another 9/11” being hatched from there. He told the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S. regional strategy “puts the enemy on the path toward accepting reconciliation.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghanistan and the Taliban hold talks amid a wave of violence

Afghan officials are carrying out at least two tracks of talks with the Taliban, The Associated Press has learned, even after a month of brutal bombings and attacks by the militants that killed nearly 200 and despite President Donald Trump’s angry rejection of any negotiations for now.


The persistence of the back-channel contacts reflects the desire to keep a door open for reconciliation even as the Afghan government and its top ally, the United States, fumble for a strategy to end the protracted war, now entering its 17th year. Rifts within the Afghan government have grown vast, even as the Taliban gain territory and wage increasingly ruthless tactics.

The United States has unleashed heavier air power against the Taliban and other militants. After the string of Taliban attacks in recent weeks, Trump angrily condemned the group. “We don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” he said. “There may be a time but it’s going to be a long time.”

Continued reading: President Trump rejects negotiations with the Taliban

Still, Afghanistan’s intelligence chief Masoom Stanikzai and its National Security Chief Mohammed Hanif Atmar continue to each talk separately to the Taliban, say those familiar with the backdoor negotiations. The problem, however, is that neither is talking to the other or to the High Peace Council, which was created by the government to talk peace with the Taliban, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the contacts.

Hakim Mujahid, a member of the High Peace Council, confirmed that Stanikzai still has regular contacts with the Taliban’s point man for peace talks, Mullah Abbas Stanikzai. The two are not related.

Mujahid — who was the Taliban’s representative to the United Nations during the group’s five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended in 2001 — said the group would not respond well to Trump’s tough talk. “The language of power, the language of threat will not convince Afghans to surrender,” he said.

Top 5 veteran influencers you need to check out this Veterans Day
President Donald Trump.(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said multiple players in Kabul have contacts with the Taliban. “But this isn’t being done in a coordinated manner to achieve clearly defined objectives,” he said.

Late February 2018, representatives from dozens of countries are to meet for a second time in the Afghan capital for the so-called Kabul process aimed at forging a path to peace. The first round was held in June 2017.

Also read: A new animated film details Afghan life under the Taliban

Still, the latest spate of violence has limited options for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is also fending off a mini-revolt within his own government, feuding with the vice president as well as a powerful northern governor.

Meanwhile, the former No. 2 of the Taliban, Aga Jan Motasim, who still counts the radical religious movement’s leader Mullah Habaitullah Akhunzada among his friends, warned that Trump’s strategy of using the military to force a more compliant Taliban to the negotiation table could lead to more suicide attacks.

From within his fortress style house in Kabul, protected by steel gates and gunmen, Motasim said he wants to be a bridge between the government and Taliban.

Motasim was a senior member of the Taliban leadership shura, or council, until 2010 when he was shot 12 times after advocating peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Blame for the shooting has been directed at both elements within the Taliban who opposed peace talks and Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, often seen as the force behind the Taliban.

Motasim now travels in a bullet-proof car and even his friends have to be announced by men with weapons before they are allowed to enter. He spends his time between Kabul, where he talks to the government, and in Turkey, from where he can contact his former Taliban colleagues.

The 2010 shooting of Motasim in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi reflects the deadly conundrum that confounds efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s war.

Related: This is how much of Afghanistan the Taliban reportedly control

Pakistan is accused of giving sanctuary to the Taliban to assert influence in Afghanistan and to counter what it sees as growing influence of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan flatly denies the allegation, but Taliban who have advocated peace talks that threaten to sideline Pakistan have often ended up arrested, dead or forced to live elsewhere.

Pakistan has its own complaints about Afghanistan, saying it allows its territory to be used by anti-Pakistan militants who have staged horrific attacks in Pakistan. It also charges that Afghanistan is being used by hostile India to destabilize its troubled border regions.

The United States has suspended military aid to Pakistan to press it into kicking out Taliban. But Washington also says it sees Pakistan as key to bringing a peaceful end to the Afghan war.

Increasingly, the Taliban have gained control of areas inside Afghanistan. Even Washington’s own Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, says more than half of Afghanistan is either under direct Taliban control or under their influence. Other estimates put the figure as high as 70 percent.

More reading: Taliban target covert US base in Afghanistan

Washington’s reaction to the news of Taliban territorial gains has been to prevent SIGAR from releasing estimates of territory gained or lost by the government, the special inspector general’s office reported last month. Washington has also classified information regarding the strength and performance of Afghanistan’s security forces.

In a report SIGAR said $72 billion of the $120 billion spent in Afghanistan since the war began went to the country’s security.

“Clearly, the time is ripe to ask why an undertaking begun in 2002 and costing $70 billion has — so far — not yielded bigger dividends,” the report said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China cries at launch of new Japanese destroyer

Japan recently launched a new class of destroyer with top-of-the line US missile-defense technology, and despite Japan’s mostly defensive posture, China portrayed the ship as a dangerous menace.

The seven decades since World War II, which concluded with the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, have seen the rise of a strong US-Japanese alliance and peace across the Pacific.


Japan, following its colonization of much of China during the war, renounced military aggression after surrendering to the US. Since then, Japan hasn’t kept a standing military but maintains what it calls a self-defense force. Japan’s constitution strictly limits defense spending and doesn’t allow the deployment of troops overseas.

But threats from North Korea, which several times has fired nuclear-capable missiles over Japan, have prompted a desire in Tokyo for missile defenses, which the US has obliged, manifesting itself in part in Japan’s new Maya destroyer class.

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Japan’s Maya-class ballistic missile defense destroyer

(Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force)

“It’s not a big deal that they have this ship,” Veerle Nouwens, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. “They’re using it for military exchanges or diplomacy. That’s effectively what it’s doing by going around to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.”

The new destroyer isn’t a radical departure from Japan’s old ones and will spend most of its time training with and visiting neighboring militaries. The destroyer isn’t exactly a rubber ducky, but it has one of the more peaceful missions imaginable for a warship.

One reason it may have drawn rebuke from Beijing is simple geography. This destroyer will have to pass through the South China Sea, and that is extremely sensitive for Beijing, which unilaterally claims almost the whole sea as its own in open defiance of international law.

China’s Global Times state-linked media outlet responded to the ship’s launch by saying it was “potentially targeting China and threatening other countries,” citing Chinese experts.

“Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples,” one such expert said, “which will certainly destabilize other regions.”

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The various territorial claims over the South China Sea

China’s real game

“China seeks full control over the South China Sea,” Nouwens said. “We can say that quite squarely. It seeks to displace the US from its traditional position from its regional dominance in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific more widely.”Since World War II, the US, particularly the US Navy, has enforced free and open seas and a rules-based world order. Imposed at a massive cost to the US, this order has enriched the world and specifically China, as safe shipping in open waters came as a given to businesses around the globe.

But now, Nouwens said, “China is threatening to lead to a situation where that may not be a given anymore.”

China has repeatedly threatened force against countries that seek to undertake simple activities, like fishing, within their own UN-designated maritime borders. But when a US Navy ship passes through the South China Sea, Beijing calls it provocative, unhelpful, or destabilizing.

“When other countries do it, it’s threatening,” Nouwens said. “When China does it to other countries, it’s fine.”

That the only two countries to ever engage in nuclear war can now work together as partners looking to protect the rights of all countries on the high seas might represent a welcome and peaceful development.

But for Beijing, which fundamentally seeks to undermine that world order to further its goals of dominating Asia, it’s cause for worry.

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

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This hard-drinking salty Coast Guard sea dog was banned from Greenland

One enlisted Coastie mutt – no disrespect, Sinbad was a “mixed breed” – earned a reputation that rivaled any sailor’s in any war before or since. He was one of only two non-humans to reach NCO status, even making Chief by the time of his retirement.


Sinbad was arguably the Coast Guard’s most famous mascot. He was enlisted into the USCG by Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. “Blackie” Rother of the Campbell. Sinbad was supposed to be a gift for Blackie’s girlfriend, but her building didn’t allow pets, so Rother took the dog back to the Cutter George W. Campbell.

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A full-fledged member of the crew of the Campbell, Sinbad had to fill out his paperwork, wear his uniform, and was given pay commensurate with his rank. When World War II broke out in the Atlantic, Sinbad wasn’t about to play dead when it mattered most.

The dog wasn’t just for fun. He had a watch, a general quarters duty station, and his own bunk. Sinbad certainly didn’t roll over for anyone. When the Coast Guard wanted to use him as a PR tool in allied ports, the pup raised hell from Morocco to Greenland.

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Especially Greenland.

The Campbell saw plenty of action. She once rammed an enemy U-boat and was also strafed by a Nazi aircraft in the Mediterranean. During a fight with U-606, the ship was severely damaged and the CO ordered that essential personnel only would remain on the Campbell. Sinbad stayed aboard ship.

Signing his enlistment papers with a pawprint, he served on Atlantic convoy duty with the rest of the Campbell crew. Just like a sailor, he had to be disciplined. One author wrote:

“Sinbad is a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks nor Good Conduct Medals. He’s been on report several times and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States Government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad, he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

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The precocious pup did earn medals, however. His awards include the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Navy Occupation Service Medal.

The crew loved Sinbad, even if no one really took responsibility for the dog. They said he earned his enlistment by drinking coffee, whiskey with beer chasers, and having his own shore liberty. He was reportedly the first off the ship at every port.

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Sinbad presumably waiting for the whiskey.

He would hit the bars hard, hopping up on empty bar stools, where his whiskey and beer habit was tended to by every bar in the area. He never paid for a drink but returned the ship “bombed” every night, with only an aspirin to tend to his hangover the next day. Sometimes his drinking led to a Captain’s Mast. He was demoted in rank for actions that generally made him a bad dog. These include:

• Missing a sailing in Italy; captured by the Shore Patrol.

• AWOL trying to rejoin the Campbell.

• Going overboard trying not to miss a sailing.

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Sinbad recovering from shore leave.

His most notorious trial was being banned from the island of Greenland altogether. During one port call, Sinbad “made his name infamous among sheep farmers.”

Captain James Hirschfield told the media that as long as Sinbad was aboard, nothing bad could happen to the ship. In a nod to Capt. Hirschfield’s statement, a statue of Sinbad is on the deck of the current Famous-class Cutter Campbell. It is considered bad luck for anyone below the rank of Chief to touch Sinbad or his bone.

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In his retirement days, the aging pup was sent to Barnegat Lifeboat Station in northern New Jersey, After 11 years of service. He slept, watched the ocean, and waited for Kubel’s Bar to open in the mornings until he died in 1951.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy named its newest destroyer after a heroic Marine

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer named the next Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in honor of Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Navy Cross recipient, Lance Cpl. Patrick Gallagher.


Also read: That time an admiral used his own Navy Cross to decorate a hero

In 1966, Gallagher, who immigrated from Ballyhaunis, Ireland in 1962, joined the Marine Corps where he served in H-Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division during Operation Hastings in the Republic of Vietnam.

“Lance Corporal Gallagher is an American hero. His exemplary service in defense of our nation and his strength and sacrifice leaves an example for all servicemen and women to emulate,” said Spencer. “His legacy will live on in the future USS Gallagher and his heroic actions will continue to inspire future Sailors and Marines.”

Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on July 18, 1966, when he selflessly threw his body on an incoming grenade, shielding his fellow Marines. He quickly pitched the grenade to a nearby river where it safely exploded out of harm’s way, without injury to himself or others. Gallagher was killed in action one year later in DaLoc near De Nang on March 30, 1967. He is one of only 30 known Irish citizens to have died in the Vietnam conflict.

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Graphic illustration of the future Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Gallagher (LCS 127). (U.S. Navy illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Raymond Diaz)

Arleigh-Burke class destroyers conduct a variety of operations from peacetime presence and crisis response to sea control and power projection. The future USS Gallagher (DDG 127) will be capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously, and will contain a combination of offensive and defensive weapon systems designed to support maritime warfare, including integrated air and missile defense and vertical launch capabilities.

Related: Why the American military created the Silver Star, Navy Cross, and other medals for valor

The ship will be constructed at Bath Iron Works, a division of General Dynamics in Maine. The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet, and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots.

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This video shows Taliban fighters trying to imitate SEAL Team 6

The Taliban last week released a 70-minute propaganda video, titled “Caravan of Heroes #13,” in which they imitated US special forces, the Military Times first reported.


While much of the video shows how the Taliban conducts ambushes and assaults, the first 10 minutes of it shows militants replete with tactical garb and weapons, and employing their tactics.

The video is unusual, since most Taliban videos show their fighters wearing turbans and beards, the Military Times reported.

 

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Screengrab from released Taliban video

“The Taliban want to show their supporters and potential recruits that they are a professional force capable of defeating the Afghan government and the coalition,” Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, told the Military Times.

“The Taliban has touted its “special forces” in the past, in previous videos, however this video definitely kicks it up a notch,” Roggio said.

Check out the Military Times’ compiled video here.

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Think tank wargame shows Russia would win opening battles against NATO

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Photo by Senior Airman Kenny Holston | U.S. Air Force


The current NATO force structure in Eastern Europe would be unable to withstand a Russian invasion into neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, a new think tank study has concluded.

After conducting an exhaustive series of wargames wherein “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios over the Baltic states, a Rand Corporation study called “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank” determined that a successful NATO defense of the region would require a much larger air-ground force than what is currently deployed.

In particular, the study calls for a NATO strategy similar to the Cold War era’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine from the 1980s.  During this time, the U.S. Army stationed at least several hundred thousand troops in Europe as a strategy to deter a potential Russian invasion. Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that there are currenty 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.

The Rand study maintains that, without a deterrent the size of at least seven brigades, fires and air support protecting Eastern Europe, that Russia cold overrun the Baltic states as quickly as in 60 hours.

“As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options,” the study writes.

“AirLand” Battle was a strategic warfighting concept followed by U.S. and allied forces during the Cold War which, among other things, relied upon precise coordination between a large maneuvering mechanized ground force and attack aircraft overhead.  As part of the approach, air attacks would seek to weaken enemy assets supporting front line enemy troops by bombing supply elements in the rear. As part of the air-ground integration, large conventional ground forces could then more easily advance through defended enemy front line areas.

A rapid assault on the Baltic region would leave NATO with few attractive options, including a massive risky counterattack, threatening a nuclear weapons option or simply allowing the Russian to annex the countries.

One of the limited options cited in the study could include taking huge amounts of time to mobilize and deploy a massive counterattack force which would likely result in a drawn-out, deadly battle. Another possibility would be to threaten a nuclear option, a scenario which seems unlikely if not completely unrealistic in light of the U.S. strategy to decrease nuclear arsenals and discourage the prospect of using nuclear weapons, the study finds.

A third and final option, the report mentions, would simply be to concede the Baltic states and immerse the alliance into a much more intense Cold War posture. Such an option would naturally not be welcomed by many of the residents of these states and would, without question, leave the NATO alliance weakened if not partially fractured.

The study spells out exactly what its wargames determined would be necessary as a credible, effective deterrent.

“Gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states,” the study writes.

During the various scenarios explored for the wargame, its participants concluded that NATO resistance would be overrun quickly in the absence of a larger mechanized defensive force posture.

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NATO

“The absence of short-range air defenses in the U.S. units, and the minimal defenses in the other NATO units, meant that many of these attacks encountered resistance only from NATO combat air patrols, which were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The result was heavy losses to several Blue (NATO) battalions and the disruption of the counterattack,” the study states.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could be likely Russian targets because all three countries are in close proximity to Russia and spent many years as part of the former Soviet Union

“Also like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been at best unevenly integrated into the two countries’ post-independence political and social mainstreams and that give Russia a self-justification for meddling in Estonian and Latvian affairs,” the study explains.

While the Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative calls for additional funds, forces and force rotations through Europe in coming years, it is unclear whether their ultimate troop increases will come anywhere near what Rand recommends.  Pentagon officials would not, at the moment, speculate as to whether thoughts and considerations were being given to raising forces levels beyond what is called for in the initiative.

At the same time, the Pentagon’s $3.4 Billion ERI request does call for an increased force presence in Europe as well as “fires,” “pre-positioned stocks” and “headquarters” support for NATO forces.

Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that more solidarity exercises with NATO allies in Europe are also on the horizon, and that more manpower could also be on the way.

“We are currently planning the future rotations of units through Europe. The heel-to-toe concept will increase how often they’re here for the Armored BCT mission, but it won’t increase how many are here at once — that will remain just one at a time. We currently have some aviation assets on a rotation here but plans aren’t yet firm on what that looks like going forward. We’ve requested additional funding for National Guard and Reserve manpower which may come in the form of full or partial units or even individuals,” Cathy Brown Vandermaarel, spokeswoman for U.S. Army Europe told Scout Warrior in a statement.

Increased solidarity exercises would be designed to further deter Russia by showing allies cooperation along with an ability to quickly deploy and move mechanized forces across the European continent, Vandermaarel added.

The Rand study maintains that, while expensive, adding brigades would be a worthy effort for NATO.

Buying three brand-new ABCTs and adding them to the U.S. Army would not be inexpensive—the up-front costs for all the equipment for the brigades and associated artillery, air defense, and other enabling units runs on the order of $13 billion. However, much of that gear—especially the expensive Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles—already exists,” the study says.

The Russian Military

Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.

Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however expert examination of Russia’s current military reveals it is not likely to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.

Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.

While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outer most borders are sizably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.

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Wikipedia

Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, however the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.

During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures, analysts have said.

Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.

Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.

Overall, the Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.

By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.

Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.

In fact, the Russian built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.

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Wikipedia

In the air, the Russian have maintained their 1980s built Su-27 fighter jets, which have been postured throughout the region by the Russian military.

Often compared to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter, the Su-27 is a maneuverable twin engine fighter built in the 1980s and primarily configured for air superiority missions.

While many experts maintain that NATO’s size, fire-power, air supremacy and technology would ultimately prevail in a substantial engagement with Russia, that does not necessarily negate the Rand study’s findings that NATO would be put in a terrible predicament should Russia invade the Baltic states.