I’m a Vietnam veteran. Like in any war, we had moments of extreme, close encounters and moments of boredom. We came home to a political nightmare where we were hated, spit upon, and called names. I, like many that came home, suffered from survivor’s guilt and something that we’d never heard of at the time: PTSD.
We went to Vietnam as soldiers and came home as individuals, so I lost contact from my unit. I never contacted the VA; I had enough of the military. I was young, strong, and independent. I could deal with anything at the time. I went back to school, got a job, got married, began a family with two wonderful kids. I was living the dream but I had a secret that I kept from everyone.
As I aged, my PTSD turned into “flashbacks,” nightmares, and three suicide attempts. The last was the worst. I sat on our kitchen floor at midnight, mad and scared. That’s when I contacted the VA Suicide Hotline and was convinced to go to the VA Hospital. I snuck some clothes from our bedroom. I was going to sneak out, but my wife woke up and demanded to drive me.
I got the help I needed from VA through the Prolonged Exposure Therapy Program (PE). My family now knows everything. It’s been six years and counting with no flashbacks, nightmares, or suicide attempts. My life and my family’s lives have changed. I believe I came through all this hell for a reason, and that is to help other veterans who suffer. The suicide rate among all veterans absolutely scares me, but most troubling is those who were like me: the 70% who don’t have any contact with the VA.
Get the help you need. Do it.
Watch Dave, his family and his therapist explain how Prolonged Exposure Therapy brought him back to a full and happy life.
See how treatment helped Dave enjoy walking in the woods behind his house, something he’d been avoiding for decades.
Go to AboutFace to hear more about PTSD and PTSD Treatment from veterans who have been there.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Islamic State is throwing as many fighters as it can into the Iraqi city of Mosul in a desperate attempt to push back against coalition forces, according to the Pentagon.
ISIS reinforcements from Syria and Iraq are entering Mosul from areas west of the city, which are still under the terrorist group’s control. ISIS leaders inside the city have been forced to conscript administration officials and other non-traditional fighters in order to counter the coalition’s offensive.
“ISIL continues to augment its manpower from the outside,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday. “We see them taking administrative and support personnel, people who are not normally involved in arms, and they are arming them.”
Davis noted that despite the reinforcements, ISIS is having difficulty with its command and control capabilities thanks in part to coalition air strikes.
ISIS’s decision to arm every potential fighter it can is not surprising. The terrorist group is woefully outnumbered, with less than 5,000 fighters in the city. In turn, the Iraqi Security Forces have deployed 18,000 men, while the Kurdish Peshmerga have fielded around 10,000. Approximately 2,000 Iraqi federal police are also supplementing the coalition force.
While coalition forces clearly have the upper hand, Davis noted they are experiencing “heavy resistance” from ISIS as they move closer to the Mosul city limits. ISIS has engaged in increasingly desperate tactics as they lose control of the city, including waves of suicide bombers, car bombs and burning oil fields. In some cases, they have resorted to using suicide bombers to cover the retreat of their personnel.
The Pentagon expects foreign fighters to be particularly dangerous targets, as many of them burned their passports upon entering the so-called caliphate.
“Those are the people we expect to stay in Mosul and fight to the death, they don’t have a lot of other good options,” said Davis.
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Earlier this month, Trump announced he was removing American troops from northern Syria, causing Turkey to invade the region, which may explain why it was a Turkish news outlet that got to the scene first to take the drone video.
When he reached the end of the tunnel, Trump said the most wanted terrorist in the world ignited the suicide vest, killing himself and all three of the children.
The explosion caused the tunnel to cave in, so US forces weren’t able to completely remove Baghdadi’s body. But they got enough of it to conduct DNA testing to confirm that the man was indeed the head of ISIS.
US forces stayed on the scene for about two hours, recovering highly sensitive information on the group.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, presided over the launch of a new anti-ship cruise missile system on June 8 in Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast. And though the missiles performed well and struck their target, it was a pretty weak showing.
The missiles flew about 125 miles, South Korea said, and fired from tracked launchers with forest camouflage. The missiles themselves were not new, according to The Diplomat, but they showed off a new launcher that can fire from hidden, off-road locations within moments of being set up.
But those are about the only nice things you could say about these missiles.
In the photos released by North Korean media, it’s clear the missiles are striking a ship that isn’t moving.
The ship appears anchored, with no wake. Photo by Rodong Sinmun
In a combat situation, the ships would move and take countermeasures. For the US, South Korean, and Japanese navies, that often means firing an interceptor missile.
North Korea also lacks the ability to support these missiles with accurate guidance. The US would use planes, drones, or even undersea platforms to observe and track a target.
Photo by Rodong Sinmun
North Korea waited to test these missiles until two US aircraft carrier strike groups armed to the teeth with missile defense capabilities left its shores, perhaps to avoid embarrassment should the US knock them down.
Unlike its practice with ballistic-missile tests, which are banned under international law, the US did not publicly comment on this launch. North Korea is well within its rights to test a cruise missile in international waters.
Photo by Rodong Sinmun
But despite the rudimentary technology used in the launch, North Korea did show that it poses a real threat. Not only do the missile launchers leverage the element of surprise, but they represent yet another new missile capability.
In a few short months, North Korea has demonstrated a range of capabilities that has surprised experts and military observers. Though the missiles don’t pose a threat to the US Navy, Kim showed he’s serious about fighting on all fronts.
Gurkha warriors fought British Dutch East India Company soldiers in the early 1800s and did so much damage to the company military that its leaders tried to buy some of the Gurkhas over to their side, and they were successful.
(While many Gurkha histories, including the quick summary embedded above, gloss over this part of the timeline and make it sound like the Gurkha warriors were recruited after the war, the first units were recruited while the company was still fighting Gurkha forces. And yes, some Gurkha tribes fought directly against their brethren on behalf of the company. But these tribes had fought each other for years, so it’s not as shocking as you might think.)
The Gurkha units in the company military were immediately successful, and they proved deep loyalties during the Indian Mutiny in 1857-1858, saving British forces and government leaders that were nearly overrun during mass uprisings against British rule. The Gurkhas were so successful in these early decades working for the company that the British absorbed them into the Indian Army, part of the forces that fought for the British Crown.
Colour Sgt. Dhan Prasad Ghale, a Gurkha assigned to the British Army’s 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, follows a Malawi Defense Force soldier as he crawls towards an objective at Machinga Hills Training Area in Zomba, Malawi, May 30, 2018.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Asa Bingham)
Five Gurkha rifle regiments were originally absorbed into the Indian Army, and another three were transferred from the Bengal Army soon after. These rifle regiments served around the world in the Great War and World War II. When India gained its independence after World War II, these regiments were split between the Indian Army and the British Army.
The British Army units were organized into the British Brigade of Gurkhas with four rifle regiments as well as transportation, engineer, and signal units. But another reorganization in the 1990s trimmed the size of the Gurkha infantry down to two battalions.
When Prince Harry deployed to Afghanistan as a forward air controller, he did so with a Gurkha infantry battalion, partially because they are seen as some of the best in the world and could help keep him safe even during fierce frontline fighting.
But Britain announced March 11 that they would create another Gurkha infantry battalion, the 3rd Battalion, Specialist Infantry. Specialized infantry units are part of Britain’s new Specialised Infantry Group (British spelling), an infantry force that focuses on working with Britain’s allies, analogous to America’s new security force assistance brigades.
So, the new Gurkha specialized infantry will be filled with some of the world’s most elite and respected infantrymen who can speak four languages and teach their skills to most of Britain’s allies. It’s hard to imagine a force that would be better suited to the mission.
U.S. Marines have been engaging in combat against the Taliban since 2001. While the scenery has changed a bit as Marines have moved to different areas of operation, the fight has remained the same. From small arms to rocket-propelled grenades, the Taliban has continued to attack U.S. forces, and they have responded, often with intense and overwhelming fire.
This video from Funker 530 gives a good look at what it’s like for Marines engaging against the Taliban. With a compilation of regular camera and GoPro footage, this gives a look at what happens in a firefight.
As retired Marine Gen. James Mattis said, “there is nothing better than getting shot at and missed.” We definitely agree.
On what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, accepted his Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump during a ceremony at the White House Aug. 22, 2018.
“We are gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen warrior, a great warrior…and to award him with our nation’s highest and most revered military honor,” Trump said.
Fighting in the early morning hours through brisk air and deep snow, Chapman sacrificed his own life to preserve the lives of his teammates during the Battle of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002.
“[John] would want to recognize the other men who lost their lives,” Valerie said in a previous interview. “Even though he did something he was awarded the Medal of Honor for, he would not want the other guys to be forgotten – they were part of the team together. I think he would say his Medal of Honor was not just for him, but for all of the guys who were lost.”
Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, following a review of the Air Force Cross and Silver Star recipients directed by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Deborah James, then-Secretary of the Air Force, recommended Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
“John was always selfless – it didn’t just emerge at Taku Ghar – he had always been selfless and highly competent, and thank God for all those qualities,” retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time of the battle, said in a previous interview. “He could have hunkered down in the bunker and waited for the (Quick Reaction Force) and (Combat Search and Rescue) team to come in, but he assessed the situation and selflessly gave his life for them.”
Valerie Nessel, the spouse of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, holds up the Medal of Honor after receiving it from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)
Chapman enlisted in the Air Force Sept. 27, 1985, as an information systems operator, but felt called to be part of Air Force special operations. In 1989, he cross-trained to become an Air Force combat controller.
According to friends and family, Chapman had a tendency to make the difficult look effortless and consistently sought new challenges. Dating back to his high school days, he made the varsity soccer squad as a freshman. In his high school yearbook, Chapman quoted these words: “Give of yourself before taking of someone else.”
Chapman looked for a new challenge, which he found in combat control. This special operations training is more than two years long and amongst the most rigorous in the U.S. military; only about one in 10 Airmen who start the program graduate. From months of intense training to multiple joint schools – including military SCUBA, Army static-line and freefall, air traffic control, and combat control schools – Chapman is remembered as someone who could overcome any adversity.
Attendees observe as President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Valerie Nessel, the spouse of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, during a ceremony at the White House.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)
“One remembers two types of students – the sharp ones and the really dull ones – and Chapman was in the sharp category,” said Ron Childress, a former Combat Control School instructor. “During one of his first days at Combat Control School, I noticed a slight smirk on his face like [the training] was too simple for him…and it was.”
Following Combat Control School, Chapman served with the 1721st Combat Control Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he met Valerie in 1992. They had two daughters, who were the center of Chapman’s world even when he was away from home – which was common in special operations.
“He would come home from a long trip and immediately have on his father hat – feeding, bathing, reading and getting his girls ready for bed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael West, who served with Chapman through Combat Control School, a three-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and at Pope AFB. “They were his life and he was proud of them. To the Air Force he was a great hero…what I saw was a great father.”
The Battle of Takur Ghar
In conjunction with Operation Anaconda in March 2002, small reconnaissance teams were tasked to establish observation posts in strategic locations in Afghanistan, and when able, direct U.S. airpower to destroy enemy targets. The mountain of Takur Ghar was an ideal spot for such an observation post, with excellent visibility to key locations.
For Chapman and his joint special operations teammates, the mission on the night of March 3 was to establish a reconnaissance position on Takur Ghar and report al-Qaida movement in the Sahi-Kowt area.
“This was a very high profile, no-fail job, and we picked John,” said retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time. “In a very high-caliber career field, with the highest quality of men – even then – John stood out as our guy.”
During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop on March 4, the MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team was ambushed. A rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter and bullets ripped through the fuselage. The blast ripped through the left side of the Chinook, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts off the ramp of the helicopter onto the enemy-infested mountaintop below.
The severely damaged aircraft was unable to return for Roberts, and performed a controlled crash landing a few miles from the mountaintop. Thus began the chain of events that led to unparalleled acts of valor by numerous joint special operations forces, the deaths of seven U.S. servicemen and now, 16 years later, the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to Chapman.
Alone, against the elements and separated from his team with enemy personnel closing in, Roberts was in desperate need of support. The remaining joint special operations team members, fully aware of his precarious situation, immediately began planning a daring rescue attempt that included returning to the top of Takur Ghar where they had just taken heavy enemy fire.
Valerie Nessel, the spouse of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, holds up the Medal of Honor after receiving it from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)
As the team returned to Roberts’ last-known position, now on a second MH-47, the entrenched enemy forces immediately engaged the approaching helicopter with heavy fire.
The helicopter, although heavily damaged, was able to successfully offload the remaining special operations team members and return to base. Chapman, upon exiting the helicopter, immediately charged uphill through the snow toward enemy positions while under heavy fire from three directions.
Once on the ground, the team assessed the situation and moved quickly to the high ground. The most prominent cover and concealment on the hilltop were a large rock and tree. As they approached the tree, Chapman received fire from two enemy personnel in a fortified position. He returned fire, charged the enemy position and took out the enemy combatants within.
Almost immediately, the team encountered machine gun fire from another fortified enemy position only 12 meters away. Chapman deliberately moved into the open to engage the new enemy position. As he engaged the enemy, he was struck by a burst of gunfire and became critically injured.
Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight despite his severe wounds. He sustained a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters for over an hour before paying the ultimate sacrifice. Due to his remarkably heroic actions, Chapman is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.
Senate lawmakers on Thursday once again signaled to the Veterans Affairs Department they want VA doctors able to talk to patients about use of medical marijuana.
By a 20-10 bipartisan vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the military construction and veterans legislation allowing agency doctors to make recommendations to vets on the use of medical marijuana — something they can’t do now even in states where cannabis prescriptions are legal.
“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense. The VA shouldn’t be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans.”
Medical marijuana is being prescribed in some states for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though its effectiveness remains questionable.
The legislative amendment was sponsored by Merkley and Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, who successfully got the same amendment through the committee in November, only to see it stripped from the bill by House lawmakers a month later.
The latest language still has to be considered by the full Senate and then be sent once more to the House for approval.
The VA won’t comment on the lawmakers’ actions on medical marijuana, but its website quotes a report by Marcel Bonn-Miller of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and Glenna Rousseau of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, dismissing marijuana as useful in treating veterans.
“Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD,” the report states. “Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”
The federal government in 2014 approved a study on medical marijuana to be conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based nonprofit research center. But the research hasn’t yet been completed.
A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin used a drone to fly his hard drives out of his high-rise apartment shortly before police raided his home.
A video posted to YouTube shows Sergey Boyko operating the drone as police try to enter his apartment in the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia, to confiscate his electronics around 10 a.m. Sept. 12, 2019, local time.
He then answers his front door, where loud banging can be heard.
“Some people are pushing the door to the apartment,” Boyko tweeted on Sept. 12, 2019, around the same time the video was taken.
Boyko’s apartment was one of 200 houses and offices linked to Navalny’s foundation across 41 cities on Sept. 12, 2019, according to Navalny.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation — Russia’s federal anti-corruption agency — warned last Sept. 8, 2019: “Searches are being carried out at a number of FBK employees’ residences, the organization’s office, and other locations.”
The raids on FBK-linked venues led to “a dozen laptops, hard drives, flash drives, phones, bank cards, and even smart watches” being taken, with some staff members having their bank accounts blocked since, according to a statement posted to Boyko’s website.
Footage broadcast by independent media outlet Romb showing a police raid on an Alexei Navalny supporter on Thursday. It’s not clear whose house this is.
On Sept. 13, 2019, Boyko wrote on Russian social-media site VK that his brother Vadim’s house was raided at 7 a.m. that morning, even though “he is not involved in politics and yesterday’s drone didn’t fly to him.”
Boyko did not say where the drone or his hard drives went.
The raids on Navalny’s allies came on the same day pro-Putin candidates lost ground in nationwide elections Sept. 8, 2019.
Kim Jong Un warned two months ago that if the US didn’t ease sanctions on North Korea that he would seek a new, potentially military, way to defend his country’s sovereignty.
On Feb 28, 2019, President Donald Trump said he was unable to strike a deal with Kim at their meeting in Vietnam because Kim was only willing to give up some of his nuclear sites in exchange for total sanctions relief, which Trump refused to concede.
In his 2019 New Year’s Day speech, Kim said that his country “may be compelled to find a new way” to defend itself if the US didn’t lift sanctions. Trump confirmed to reporters on Feb. 28, 2019, that all of current US sanctions are still “in place, yes.”
President Donald J. Trump is greeted by Kim Jong Un Feb. 27, 2019, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, for their second summit meeting.
Sitting on a leather chair with a black suit and grey tie in January 2019, Kim hinted that the lack of sanctions relief — as was seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 28, 2019 — could merit a military response or escalation.
“If the United States does not keep the promise it made in the eyes of the world, and out of miscalculation of our people’s patience, it attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our Republic,” he said, according to a translation by the state-run Rodong Sinmun, “we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.”
Prior to the summit US intelligence and North Korea experts repeatedly warned that Pyongyang is unlikely to give up its nuclear arms. An intelligence report published January 2019 reiterated the idea that the country’s leaders view nuclear arms as “critical to regime survival.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It was a dynamic, often turbulent, year around the military community. 2015 saw domestic terrorism, growing aggression from former Cold War adversaries, and the Pentagon dealing with unprecedented budgetary and cultural challenges. Here are WATM’s picks for the top 15 stories of the year:
1. The “American Sniper” controversy
The Clint Eastwood-helmed biopic from real-life American sniper Chris Kyle divided the U.S. like a red Starbucks cup. The film earned a whopping $100 million during its opening weekend, but inconsistencies from the book and the depictions of certain onscreen combat actions (like taking aim at a child in Iraq, for example) sparked a few anti-war tweets from actor Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore. The movie also caused a backlash about how much of a hero Kyle really was, bringing into question whether the all of the events Kyle wrote about really happened.
As much as military experts lauded the film for “getting it right” in terms of technical detail and overall atmospherics (including the challenges of reintegration) “American Sniper” also exposed that the civilian-military divide is alive and well.
2. Troops deployed to fight Ebola outbreak return from West Africa
In 2014, President Obama ordered 2,800 U.S. troops and Department of Defense personnel to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic there. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were the hardest hit, with more than 22,000 reported cases and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. U.S. troops were vital to the mission to contain the victims and maintain the quarantines. In February 2015, all but 100 of those troops deployed returned home, not a single one infected by the virus.
“Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units; military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day,” said Rajiv Shah, then-head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
3. Bowe Bergdahl faces general court martial
The Army, for more than a year, deliberated on just how to deal with the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl incident. Though it is clear Bergdahl walked away from his post during his last deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held until his release in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, the Army stated its belief that there is no evidence Bergdahl engaged in any misconduct while held captive by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The matter was sent before a four-star general to review the facts for a possible court martial.
In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” Sgt. Bergdahl’s story is now the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, featuring interviews with those for Bergdahl’s unit, as well as his Taliban captors.
4. Donald Trump blasts Sen. John McCain’s service record
Trump was speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July when moderator Frank Luntz asked the Presidential candidate about an incident where McCain referred to Trump’s supporters as “the crazies.” Luntz referred to the Arizona Senator as a “war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured… I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump replied and then told the audience that McCain “graduated last in his class at Annapolis (Naval Academy).” After the event, Trump released a statement:
“I am not a fan John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans… I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
The statement was condemned by the Republican Party, other GOP hopefuls, and much of the American media. Sen. McCain did not immediately comment. McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spent the next six years being beaten and tortured as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joeshortly after Trump’s remarks, but did not demand an apology.
“I’m not a hero,” the 78-year-old senator said. “But those who were my senior ranking officers … those that inspired us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing, those are the people I think he owes an apology to.”
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain added. “When Mr. Trump says he prefers to be with people who are not captured, the great honor of my life was to be in the company of heroes.”
5. Marines who lowered the American Flag in Havana raise it again
In January 1961, three U.S. Marines in Havana, Cuba lowered the U.S. embassy flag for the last time. The day before, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a coup brought dictator Fidel Castro to power. Castro ordered all but 11 U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba.
6. U.S. troops Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos prevent terror attacks on a Paris train
In August 2015, a heavily armed Moroccan national was set to shoot up a Paris-bound train, killing as many people as possible. As he exited the bathroom, two Frenchmen attempted to wrest the would-be shooter’s AKM rifle away. One was shot through the neck, the other fell to the floor. At that point three Americans — a civilian named Anthony Sadler, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos — jumped the gunman. Stone put the man in a choke hold, taking repeated stab wounds from a box cutter, while Skarlatos took the attacker’s rifle, beating him in the head until the man lost consciousness.
As others restrained the attacker, Stone (who is an Air Force medic) tended to the wounds of the first passenger, pushing his finger on the neck artery to stop the bleeding. All survived. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone were named Knights of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande. Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor (civilian equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross). Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal (the highest non-combat award). And Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal, and Purple Heart. Stone also received a STEP promotion to staff sergeant after his regular promotion to senior airman.
7. First female soldiers earn Ranger Tabs
The two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first women to complete the U.S. Army’s grueling Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia amid the ongoing debate about the roles of women fighting in combat. Griest is a military police officer and Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two were among 19 women who started the course. A third woman graduated in October.
8. Russia enters the Syrian Civil War
In September, Russian military aircraft carried out the country’s first airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained his forces were attacking ISIS positions, but there were many reports of Russian forces attacking anti-regime positions. Russia’s support for Syria goes back to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s support for Asad’s father, Hafez al-Asad who ruled Syria for almost 30 years before his death in 2000. The issue was made even more complicated after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace.
9. Marine Corps publishes a study about gender-integrated units
The Marine Corps released a summary of results in September 2015 based on a nine-month study of gender-integrated units in combat situations. Called “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force,” the four-page summary described how all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks and how female Marines were injured at twice the rate of men. The study also claimed that all-male units were faster, stronger, had less body fat, and were more accurate with every standard individual weapon like M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
The study’s summary did note the performance of female Marines in individual combat situations and in current overall combat operations, saying: “Female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”
10. Training “Moderate” Syrian rebels falls apart
The first round of American-trained “moderate” Syrian fighters made their way into Syria in September 2015. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage. Later the same month, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels was a disaster. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, reported of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. The CENTCOM spokesman went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015. The Obama Administration nixed the plan to train rebels by October 9th.
11. Congress saves A-10 from the Air Force
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only aircraft built specifically for a close-air support mission. The signature feature is its 30mm gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (the BRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), has been music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so that the plane has earned the nickname of “the grunt in the air.” The Air Force wanted to retire the slow-moving but stout plane to make room in their budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says is “designed for the whole battlespace.” But critics claim the F-35 ill-suited for the close air support mission.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered the Air Force to produce a reliable, independent study on how they will replace the A-10’s CAS mission while providing the necessary funds to keep the Warthog flying.
12. President Obama extended U.S. military’s Afghan mission into 2017
They won’t have a direct combat role, but U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. When President Obama leaves office in 2017, 5,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban and a growing ISIS threat will keep the U.S. forces busy as they work to keep the Afghan government in power.
The Obama Administration announced the extension in October. The War in Afghanistan is almost 15 years old and claimed the lives of 2,230 service members and cost more than $1 trillion. The new yearly plan costs upwards of $15 billion per year.
13. ISIS and China hack DoD computers, stealing troops’ personal data
In mid-October, a native of Kosovo was detained in Malaysia and alleged to be the hacker who had forced his way into the U.S. government software that held the personal information of U.S. troops and federal workers. The Kosovar, said to have ties to ISIS, stole data belonging to 1,300 people and gave it to the terror group’s hacking division.
One month prior, Chinese hackers forced their way into the systems of the Office of Personnel Management, and stole 5.6 million fingerprints, which, in turn, affected the compromised the records of 21.5 million Federal employees and applicants. The personal data also potentially contained information about intelligence agents posted overseas. The data included the employees’ biographical forms used when applying for sensitive or classified jobs.
14. All Combat Jobs are opened to women
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to open all military combat roles to women, rejecting limitations on the most dangerous military jobs. The secretary’s orders gave the branches until January 1st to plan their changes and force those combat roles open to women by April 1st, including infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces.
Women already have access to most front-line roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Earlier in 2015, women were integrated into the Navy’s Submarine Service. Women have been serving as fighter pilots in the Air Force and Navy since 1993, and the Army has been fighting to open its infantry positions to women since September 2015. The defense secretary’s rationale was simply that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for the jobs.
15. U.S. deploys special forces ground troops to fight ISIS
In a departure from the U.S. military’s policy of providing air support and “advisors” to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter authorized the deployment of additional special operations forces in Iraq to conduct raids to free hostages, capture Daesh leaders, and gather intelligence.
Earlier in the year, the U.S. deployed 3,300 troops to Iraq in training and advisory capacities, as well as support for air operations. The new standing force will be based in Iraq but conduct operations in Iraq and in Syria. The total special force could number up in the hundreds. In October, U.S. special forces and Iraqi troops conducted a raid on an ISIS compound to free 70 Iraqi prisoners, resulting in the first U.S. castualty in the war against ISIS.
Russia’s political-military leadership frequently criticizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its enlargement and for staging military exercises close to Russian borders. This pattern has intensified since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent downturn in its relations with the United States and its allies.
Surprisingly, therefore, Moscow’s official reaction has been somewhat muted during the current run up to the active phases of NATO’s largest exercise in Europe in 25 years—though some Russian military experts have been making critical comments to the media.
On January 23, the US Department of Defense confirmed that a redeployment of United States military personnel had commenced, transferring forces from the homeland to Europe as part of the NATO exercise Defender Europe 2020. The wide-spanning maneuvers will focus on the Baltic States, Poland and Georgia, involving more than 36,000 personnel from 11 countries (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020).
Russian news outlets have highlighted that this year’s Defender Europe exercise scenario is based on a war breaking out on the continent in 2028, between NATO and an enemy close to its borders. Additional reports stressed the scale of the exercise, with 28,000 U.S. military personnel participating, including the deployment of 20,000 from the United States. Referring to the magnitude of the drills, Vadim Kozyulin, a professor at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, compared them to the 1983 Able Archer, which resulted in Soviet forces being placed on alert.
Despite the scale of Defender Europe 2020 not even coming close to Able Archer 1983, a number of the upcoming exercise’s features may well cause concern for the Russian defense establishment (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020). Kozyulin asserted, “Such large-scale exercises will seriously aggravate the situation. Moreover, the main events will be held in Poland, Georgia and the Baltic countries, which not only border Russia, but also [exhibit] an unfriendly attitude toward our country” (Km.ru, January 27).
These reports also stressed a number of aspects of the exercise that may help explain the lack of an official response from Moscow thus far. Defender Europe will become an annual NATO exercise with a large-scale iteration planned for even-numbered years and smaller versions occurring in between. US military personnel will constitute the bulk of the force this year, with European allies collectively providing only 8,000 personnel.
As Russian analysts expect, moving the forces, equipment and hardware will prove quite challenging to the North Atlantic Alliance forces. Moreover, Defender Europe 2020 is the first exercise of its kind, which may have persuaded Russia’s defense leadership to cautiously study the exercise in all its various elements before responding to it (Km.ru, January 27, 2020; Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020; Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
In a detailed commentary in Izvestia, the Moscow-based military analyst Anton Lavrov assesses the implications of the exercise, and identifies areas that will be closely monitored by Russia. Lavrov notes that Defender Europe will work out how the Alliance will fight a “war of the future” by testing an experimental strategy and some of its latest military equipment, adding, “Almost 500 American tanks, self-propelled guns and heavy infantry fighting vehicles, hundreds of aircraft, [as well as] tens of thousands of wheeled vehicles will take part in the exercises.”
The force buildup for the maneuvers will continue until April, and then NATO will conduct a series of drills forming part of the overall exercise. Crucially, this will provide an opportunity for the US to road-test its latest doctrinal development, namely “multi-domain battle,” which adds space and cyberspace to the traditional domains of land, sea and air. Lavrov states, “The concept will be tested in a series of command and staff exercises of the allied forces” (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
The exercise divides into three related elements: transferring 20,000 US troops from the homeland to Europe and back again, moving US personnel based in Europe, and conducting a series of smaller exercises alongside allied forces.
Lavrov also points to the fact that Defender Europe 2020 will rehearse both defensive and offensive operations. One feature of the offensive operational aspects relates to US airborne forces conducting three joint airborne assault landings. In each case, the leading role is assigned to US forces. In the drop into Latvia, they will be joined by forces from Spain and Italy; in Lithuania, they are aided by personnel from Poland; and an additional multilateral airdrop is planned for Georgia (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
As noted, one key challenge relates to the logistical tasks of moving troops and equipment over such vast distances. US military personnel and equipment will land at airports across Europe and seaports in Antwerp (Belgium), Vlissingen (Netherlands), Bremerhaven (Germany) and Paldiski (Estonia).
Russian military expert Vyacheslav Shurygin explained the nature of the challenge: “The transport infrastructure of Europe has not encountered such large-scale movements of military equipment for a long time.” Indeed, the redeployment of forces and hardware involved cannot be compared to standard US battle group rotations (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
Clearly, one of the objectives of the exercise is to assess the efficiency of these deployments into a potential theater of military operations. Lavrov adds, “Even for the modern US Army, the transfer of heavy tank and infantry divisions from continent to continent is a difficult, lengthy and expensive task. Twenty thousand units of equipment that the Americans will use in the maneuvers will arrive from the US, and another 13,000 will be received by the military from storage bases on the spot.
In Europe, there are now four large storages of American military equipment. Each one has everything, from tanks and artillery to trucks and medical vehicles, to equip a tank brigade. Another similar base is being built in Poland and will be commissioned in 2021″ (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
One commentary in the Russian media stressed not only that NATO was deploying forces for exercises close to Russia’s borders but pointedly also referenced Belarus, which fits with Moscow’s scenario planning for its Zapad series of strategic military exercises: “However, the fact that such a powerful group of US and NATO forces is practicing deployments near the borders of Belarus and Russia, against the background of a growing American military presence in Poland and the Baltic countries, is a matter of concern” (Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
It remains to be seen whether Russia’s political-military leadership will continue to be cautious about Defender Europe, restricting its criticism to public rhetoric, or if it will ultimately try to engage the Alliance in political or information warfare on this front.
The American Legion is calling on Congress to reconsider its position on marijuana, asking lawmakers to remove the drug from Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it as a drug with “potential medical value.”
In a resolution passed at the 98th National Convention of the American Legion on Sept. 1, the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Convention Committee unanimously recommended the delegates pass a resolution urging the DEA to “license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research.”
Officials with the American Legion say there’s some evidence marijuana helps in the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. Research conducted by the Legion’s Ad Hoc Committee on TBI/PTSD found that the conditions cost the economy $60 billion.
“The response of the membership has been very positive,” says William Detweiler, the chairman of the Legion’s Ad Hoc Committee on TBI/PTSD. “Our veterans deserve the best medical care that we can offer. We believe that funding additional medical research in this field will provide another ‘tool’ in the physician’s toolbox for treatment.”
In 2011, the Ad Hoc Committee was formed to look into the issues surrounding the treatment of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress. The goal was to determine what treatments are being employed by VA and DoD currently and what other treatments and protocols that may be available that are not being currently used or approved.
Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act includes drugs like marijuana, heroin, and LSD while Schedule 2 includes oxycodone, morphine, and Ritalin.
Now that the national convention passed the resolution supporting medical marijuana research for veterans with certain conditions, the National Commander of the American Legion and the staff can urge Congress and the DEA to provide funds for research on medical cannabis.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West said marijuana is still an illegal drug and soldiers using it will face discipline, but she sees some benefit to using chemicals within pot to treat PTSD and TBI.
“Using marijuana has a lot of adverse health effects, it’s surprising that’s not brought out when they’re trying to legalize it. … It’s more dangerous that some of the carcinogens that are in tobacco,” West said during a media roundtable in Washington. “But if there’s some component of [marijuana] that can be useful to treat our service members, anyone who has post-traumatic stress disorder … I’m for that.”
The American Legion did not survey the 2.4 million veterans it represents to find their feelings on medical marijuana but has found their constituents to be generally receptive to the idea.
“Veterans are exhausted and feel like guinea pigs; they’re getting desperate,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, a researcher from Arizona who spoke at the Legion’s National Convention. “It’s a big breakthrough. While I can’t say definitively that medical marijuana works for PTSD – we are three years away from published data – we owe it to veterans to study this plant.”